Earlier this year I was on assignment for National Geographic Traveler in India to shoot for an article on tiger safaris. I was there for a week and visited both Bandhavgarh and Ranthambore, their most famous tiger parks. It turned out to be a very frustrating experience - only on our very last game drive did we see a tiger. One tiger. After sunset. On the road. Hardly the ideal conditions for a good shot.
Tigers are indigenous to Asia and there are many companies that offer photo tours to India, where they visit the same two parks which are supposed to be the best. But chances of you actually seeing a tiger are small, and seeing one in good photography conditions are even smaller. Unfortunately, chances of seeing a tiger in the wild are diminishing further every year, as tiger conservation on the Asian continent does not seem to be very successful. Numbers are decreasing rapidly and necessary measures, like properly fencing and protecting the national parks, are not taken.
This has always been the main reason we have never organized a tiger photography tour before - you simply can't promise good tiger sightings in those parks if you only have limited time. Another reason is that the famous tiger parks are heavily overcrowded with tourists and vehicles, and that you have to be extremely lucky to be in a good position for photography when you arrive at a sighting. Been there, done that.
But even though my first tiger encounter was short and far from ideal, I was impressed with this incredibly pretty cat and I was determined to get better shots.
In 2000 a revolutionary tiger conservation plan was made in South Africa - huge stretches of farmland in South Africa were bought and a new game reserve was created - one where tigers could roam in the wild, hunting on their own, living free while protected by a huge fence; to keep the tigers in and the poachers out.
In the beginning the project was criticized by conservationists and narrow-minded nature fundamentalists who questioned the value of the project, but soon the first litters were born and in December 2010 there were already 16 tigers in the sanctuary, and it is currently the most successful tiger conservation project in the world when it comes to rapidly increasing numbers of tigers.
When you're serious about preventing a species from going extinct, you have to think out of the box.
Not so long ago government officials admitted that all the tigers had disappeared from Panna, one of India’s leading reserves, when just 2 years ago there was still a healthy population of 24. Even more recent the major tiger parks were temporarily closed for tourism in an effort to blame the tourists instead of poachers, organized crime and corrupt park officials. As long as there's an ever increasing demand for tiger parts from China and Vietnam, the tiger will continue to be poached - it's as simple as that. More tigers means better chances that they will survive.
We visited the South African tiger sanctuary earlier this year, spent a few days with the tigers, and we were very impressed. The tiger sanctuary is huge, the tigers have loads of space, they can hunt for themselves, and they are well protected from the outside world by a state of the art fence. We had so many good photo opportunities with the tigers, that we were instantly convinced that this is the place to go if you want good tiger shots. So we decided to organize a tour to this remarkable place:
If you're interested in joining me on this spectacular trip, please check out my website for more pictures, a tour impression video clip, and a detailed PDF:
Hope to see you there!
©2012 Marsel van Oosten, All Rights Reserved. This image is not available for use on websites, blogs or other media without the explicit written permission of the photographer.