World Tiger Day Movies

Tigerland: two conservationists and the battle of saving the big cat


On International Tiger Day, documentary 'Tigerland' celebrates the magnificent animal and its conservationists

Last weekend villagers filmed a tigress being lynched near Pilibhit Tiger Reserve, Uttar Pradesh, bringing into focus the constant battle for survival between man and the wild. Oscar-winning filmmaker Ross Kaufmann’s Tigerland is also a blood-splattered, arresting exploration of how human and tiger territories overlap and collide. Named after the vast expanse of central, sub-continental and Southeast Asia where tigers once roamed, Tigerland ties the work of two passionate conservationists — Pavel Fomenko, head of Rare Species Conservation, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) - Russia, and Kailash Sankhala, first director of India’s Project Tiger — across the decades.

The documentary shot by Kaufmann and Matt Porwoll goes beyond merely featuring the big cat as the muscled, beautiful hero of the jungle. Beginning with iconography of the tiger from various cultures — gladiators sparring with them to an excited Tigger from Winnie the PoohTigerland traverses the vast Russian taiga before pushing back to the sepia-toned forest reserves of central India.

One happens in the now, following the urgency-filled work that Fomenko does for the conservation of the Siberian tiger that inhabits lands that hug the Sea of Japan. The other, follows the story of Kailash, who started one of the most successful conservation projects in history and the legacy of a life in the wild followed by three generations of his family.

Tigerland: two conservationists and the battle of saving the big cat

Speaking about how Tigerland that premièred at Sundance Festival, 2019, landed on his portfolio, Kaufmann says, “Discovery approached me for a film on its C.A.T Project. While researching, we were inspired by the T2 initiative, a global effort to double the tiger population by 2024. We landed on two riveting stories, around which we centred the film.”

The film swings between the two countries. It begins in Russia with Fomenko sniffing at paw prints to analysing ballistics on a tiger that had been shot by poachers. It throws in figures such as 1,00,000 tigers in 1900 to fewer than 4,000 today; their extinction in Korea, Bali and Java; how Fomenko met his wife Yulia; their shared passion and life in the Siberian wilderness; how they take on poachers who multiplied after the fall of the USSR, and how Fomenko continues his work despite a ghastly attack by a tigress.

In India, where tiger hunting was a revered sport for both maharajas and colonialists, the story begins with Kailash, an Indian Forest Service officer writing to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the dismal numbers of the tiger; Jairam Ramesh, MP and author of Indira Gandhi: A Life in Nature commenting on the extraordinary political will it needed to bring out the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; conservationist Bittu Sahgal of Sanctuary Asia on the “gift of the fight” that Kailash had, and the work the Sankhala family continues to do for tigers.

Amit Sankhala, 37, grandson of Kailash, has been a conservationist since he was 20, working primarily on legal advocacy on wildlife matters through Tiger Trust. In a call from Canada, he says, “I spend five months a year exploring the wild, swimming with turtles in Galapagos, walking with polar bears in Svalbard and tracking the elusive snow leopard in Ladakh.” As one who also manages eco-tourist lodges near Pench, he says, “The focus has moved from only poaching to loss of habitats because of expanding towns, mining and the timber industry. Tiger numbers are increasing but access to corridors is shrinking. It is critical to genetic diversity, conservation and growth. Tourism is important to help connect with these creatures. Only a small percentage of reserves is open to tourism but large areas still need to be patrolled. Poaching happens when no one is watching. The key is to involve local communities.”

The documentary looks at these core issues without losing sight of the incredible beauty of the tiger.

Tigerland will premiere in India on Discovery Channel and Discovery World HD on July 29 at 8 pm.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 11:44:57 PM |

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