Conservationist John Varty is recovering well since he was mauled by one of the tigers on his Tiger Canyons property near Philippolis in South Africa a fortnight ago . He has been well enough to write a newsletter on his site where he details his long history with Corbett, and divulges the details of the attack.
Here’s an excerpt:
I have known Tiger Corbett from the moment he was born. I suspect he was born first in the litter from his mother, Shadow, and as his feet touched the ground he walked from the den into the 36 degrees centigrade heat outside. By chuffing him, I guided him back to his mother. In short, I had a conversation with Corbett within 10 minutes of his birth.
When the cubs were 16 days old, I crawled into Shadow’s den. All the other cubs froze, hidden in the thick bush. Corbett, however, turned and spat and snarled at the camera. This strengthened my belief that aggression is in the genes. Two weeks after this incident, I went to weigh the cubs while Shadow was away from the den hunting. Once again, Corbett ‘attacked’ me and the camera.
Varty describes other similar incidents where Corbett tended to display “unusually high” levels of aggression throughout his life, leading up to the day of the attack, when he had just completed a trial run filming with Aquavision Studios, and the team was about to return to the camp.
Adjacent to Tigress Julie’s boma, was Corbett and his sister Panna in their boma. As usual, Corbett had been paying attention to everything that was going on around him while Panna was nowhere to be seen. As I struggled to latch the gate, I kept looking behind me, as is my habit when at the gates. I noticed a tiger on a rock about 120 meters away and presumed it to be Corbett. In retrospect I realize that the tiger I saw on the rock was Panna while Corbett had been crouching in the grass not 15 m from where I stood, watching my every move.
Finally, I managed to latch the gate securely and as I turned to go to the jeep parked about 15 meters away Corbett charged the fence from inside his boma.
All my gates at Tiger Canyon are made from steel bars – the exception is this gate in the holding boma, which has horizontal barbed and electrified wire strung horizontally across it.
Somehow, Corbett managed to reach through the wire and with his massive paws hook me around the waist and drag me back against the gate. At this point, it flashed through my mind to use the stick or the hand gun I carry, but Corbett was too quick and his grip too powerful. In short, I was like a rag doll being ripped as he tried to drag me through the wire into his boma. It struck me that these were my last moments on planet Earth. From a distance I heard Julie Brown screaming and to my amazement, risking her life, she jumped off the jeep and grabbed me by my legs and was in a tug-of-war with Corbett. But no human can match a 450lb tiger for strength and power. Flashing through my mind was to try to protect my throat and head. For a moment I thought to sham dead. This was all futile in the grip of the powerful Corbett.
The film producer, Julie-Ann Reid, joined Julie Brown trying to wrest me away from Corbett, but the tiger wouldn’t let go. The incredible bravery of these two women gave cameraman Phumlani Mchunu time to grab an iron bar from the vehicle and smash Corbett over the head, forcing him to release me.
For people who have never worked with tigers, to go up against a ferocious tiger armed only with a steel bar, is an incredible act of bravery. They saved my life.
There’s no suggestion that Corbett should be shot or euthanised. You can read more on John Varty’s website.
Friends and fans have rallied to surport Varty, who has often been embroiled in controversy in the past by people who misunderstand his passion for saving wildlife, and have pounced on this opportunity to attack his endeavours again.
According to Daryl Balfour, an acclaimed wildlife photographer and safari tour operator:
JV is one of the most visionary conservationists, film-makers and individuals around. But by many ill-informed, misinformed, uninformed, envious, jealous or simply stupid people, JV is maligned, discredited and ignored. I have to admit that before I met and became close friends with the man, worked closely with him, and saw what he tries to do, I probably fell into that ill-informed category.
We wish you a speedy recovery Mr Varty – the tigers need you.