Lifestyle & Culture

Tigerland: Documentary Celebrates Work of Heroic Tiger Conservationists

Oscar winner Ross Kaufmann’s tender film takes place in Russia and India, highlighting the passion of people who have devoted their lives to ensuring tigers never go extinct.

29.07.2019 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash
Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

It seems impossible to imagine a world without an animal as iconic as the tiger. No proud orange and black big cat prowling the jungle; no Shere Khan, Tigger or Tony the Tiger cementing their place in our shared cultural history.

Yet, the species’ disappearance has long been a very real possibility. Three breeds of tiger—those previously found in Bali, the Indonesian island of Java, and the areas around the Caspian sea—are already extinct as a result of poaching and habitat destruction. Estimates suggest that while in 1900 there were 1,000,000 tigers in the wild, the number today is much closer to 4,000.

A new documentary has today been released to encourage the world to make change. Tigerland, made for the Discovery channel by Oscar-winning documentary maker Ross Kaufman, centres on the work of two celebrated conservationists: Pavel Fomenko, feared poacher catcher and head of Rare Species Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature in Russia; and Kailash Sankhala, the first director of India’s Project Tiger, who led the organisation from its foundation in 1973 to his death in 1994.

In the trailer, Fomenko and his wife Yulia are seen tracking a pack of Siberian Tiger cubs through the deep snows of Northern Russia. Fomenko explains that the team had been forced to catch a mother tiger and separate her from her cubs because she had killed a local dog– and was, therefore, at risk of a retaliatory attack by the now angered local villagers. The conservationists speak slowly, conveying the gravity of the situation, but are not above being playful: After working out that the tigress footsteps the team comes across are smaller than the span of his hand, Fomenko smiles. “I am more awesome,” he says.

Kaufmann’s documentary intersperses this tale with information about Sankhala, known affectionately as the “Tiger Man of India.” Sankhala was pictured on safari with Prince Charles and was awarded the fourth-highest civilian award in India, the Padma Shri. The Tiger Trust, an organisation he set up in 1989, has been run by three generations of the family: Pradeep Sankhala took over in 1994, before control passed to his son—Sankhala’s grandson — in 2003.

Describing TigerLand in a YouTube clip, Kaufmann says the film “is about two people who have used every ounce of their energy and really spent every moment of their day thinking about tigers and trying to save tigers.”

“Why is it so important to save a tiger,” he asks. “One thing that we have learned is that saving a tiger is just a step to saving the forest.”

In an interview with RT, the director adds that he consciously didn’t want to make a film about the destruction of the tiger, but to instead show the passion of those that had devoted their lives to the animals and to help others realise how beautiful tigers are up close—hopefully thereby encouraging people to do more research about how to ensure the animal exists for future generations.

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