The still air in the vast expanses settles around one so that you feel that if you move you will be interrupting the moment. Stand still long enough and you will become part of the landscape that will exist forever in time. Suddenly, the stillness is interrupted by a low, throaty growl that echoes through the air. Another growl and a hiss follow and then, just as instantaneously, it is gone and the silence, once more, descends around you.
This silence is an element of the African landscape that is so magical, it is the Siren of Africa that calls and those who hear it will constantly travel back to it time after time to immerse their souls in it's bewitching senses.
In the Karoo of Southern Africa the silence of Africa can be acutely felt. It is uninterrupted by the noises of progress and it is here that you can find a very special project that allows you to reflect deeply about the insanity of mankind and the bizarre events that unfold around us on a daily basis.
A thought provoking series of events has taken place centered around a few Tigers, now numbering 14, that are being kept on a conservancy of around 3000 hectares in the Southern Free State. This is a story of one man's vision for a perfect world. A world where animals will not be threatened by the greed of men. John Varty has literally stuck his head in a hornets nest and established a project where he is breeding Tigers to be released into the wild.
I feel my heart pound just that little bit faster as we approach the first Tiger. Surely the most beautiful of the big cats of the world he sits regally on top of a mound surveying the world. We edge a little closer and suddenly we are really close. This is the dominant male in the group. He lazily unfolds his limbs and saunters on over to the vehicle. In a deft little jump he is suddenly on the bonnet and it becomes obvious why the bonnet of the vehicle looks as though some crazed individual with a hammer has pounded it into a concave bowl. The whole vehicle rocks from side to side as the Tiger starts sniffing.
The first impression is that he is trying to determine who is inside the vehicle, but it very quickly becomes obvious that he has something entirely different on his mind. He turns himself around, lifts his tail and sends back a shower of Tiger scent back into the vehicle and all over us. He is ensuring that the scent on this particular vehicle is now only his. Then, with catlike deftness, he settles down on the bonnet to survey the world completely ignoring everyone inside the vehicle.
Our Tiger lessons start here. We are regaled with more information than I thought was ever available about a Tiger and the predicament they find themselves in. I need to mention here that JV (John Varty) our host, has just come out of hospital after being mauled by Corbett, one of the Tigers of Tiger Canyons. His every move looks rent with pain, yet he still can't dampen the passion from shining through. JV starts the vehicle again and as we inch forward our extra passenger jumps off and lies down on his mound again.
Around another corner we come across a group of younger Tigers. In the group is a rare blue-eyed white Tiger. She is seriously kissing up to her brother. It would appear through the days ahead that the two are a coalition of sorts. They are always seen together and one cannot help but think that she has allied herself to him for a certain amount of protection. We are able to get close enough for some crystal clear portraits and as the light fades on the day the peace of the Karoo settles around us and we head off for our dinner.
The following two days are a Tiger Fest. We are the only guests visiting Tiger Canyons and as such we can spend as long as we like with whichever Tiger we come across. We catch Tigers yawning, Tigers drinking water and Tigers swimming. We are even lucky enough to catch the Tigers climbing trees, perching majestically on rocks, and some hunting action. The cherry on the cake comes with some boxing action and a mother and son confrontation.
At most I had hoped to get a little closer to Tigers to get some good close-up shots but not in a million years did I think that I would come home with a library of images and have accumulated so much knowledge about the behavior and predicament of Tigers. No matter where we turn in the world, man has caused so much change and most of it is not for the good of the world. I am increasingly in awe of people who give up their lives to try to preserve the little bit that is left of the natural world.