Here's the shocker. According to WWF the world has lost 97% of its Tigers in the last 100 years. A great endorsement to the human race that will constantly declare its superiority over anything else out there. Well Done Chaps!! If you try just a little harder then that figure could read 100% in 100 years.
Research reveals that there are less than 1400 wild Tigers in India with less than 3500 world wide. Tigers disappeared from Bali in the 1940's. In Central Asia they disappeared in the 1970's. Java said goodbye to their last Tiger in the 1980's and in the 1990's South China followed suit.
The other side of the coin, or should we say cages, is that there are between 15 000 and 20 000 Tigers in captivity world wide.
I am galvanized into action by the realization that time is running out for me to see a Tiger in the wild. A chance encounter at Chief's Island in Botswana introduces me to the world of Tiger Canyons.
I have to admit that buried somewhere in the recesses of my woolly brain I scrape around and remember newspaper headlines about a Chinese woman and John Varty coming to blows about some Tigers now resident in the Free State. The not-too-difficult search on the ever powerful internet provides the information and whala, the booking is made.
Then disaster strikes. John Varty, as most wildlife enthusiasts know, is attacked by one of his Tigers one week before my impending visit. For a while there I wasn't sure this was actually going to happen. But, as time marches on, the dates are reset, and after the Easter weekend the car is headed South towards the Free State.
Tiger Canyons lies on the cusp of the Karoo and essentially can be considered part of the Greater Karoo. Almost as if by magic when one leaves the hilly area around Bloemfontein its as though someone has taken a spatula and neatly flattened the earth with a wide sweeping motion allowing a couple of rocky outcrops to survive. The golden grass plains gradually turn to scrubland while the horizon flattens out for miles and miles.
There is a tangible quality to the air in the Karoo that is difficult to describe. I find the best way to savour this experience is to drive off the main road, stop the car, get out and simply listen. It is as if you can feel, smell and hear the endlessness of the space.
The drive out of Phillipolis west towards Tiger Canyons does not disappoint, but if one is expecting a showpiece at Tiger Canyons then you're in for a disappointment. Here, it's all about the Tigers. And they do not disappoint. A Tiger must be the most beautiful animal out there. Within minutes of arriving we have our first encounter with a Tiger.