Growing ever concerned with the dwindling tiger population in Asia and India, cameraman John Varty and zoologist/cat trainer Dave Salmoni embarked upon a wild, controversial idea. Their mission—take two zoo-born tiger cubs, Ron and Julie, to Africa (where there are no tigers at the time of filming,) and train them in the ways of the wild. Hopefully, Ron and Julie can learn to be self-sufficient and be released into the wild, where the plan is that they’ll reproduce enough that tigers can be reintroduced, from Africa, back to Asia and India in The Discovery Channel’s Animal Documentary, Living with Tigers.
Varty and Salmoni certainly have their work cut out for them. First, they have to find a zoo willing to part with a pair of tiger cubs. Then, the two conservationists have to transport their cubs to South Africa, where they set up camp on a wildlife reserve. It’s then that the real fun begins: training Ron and Julie to follow their basic instincts and become wild tigers.
The problem is, as zoo cubs, Ron and Julie don’t know/understand how to hunt their own food, and it’s up to Varty and Salmoni to get the cubs to that point, slowly, through trial and error. And it’s slow going at first. Ron and Julie’s first attempts at hunting are almost comical—once they have the basic concept down, they have absolutely no patience and constantly charge their prey from great distances away, with no chance of catching anything. After finally figuring out basic stalking and patience, Ron and Julie have no idea what to do with their prey after killing it—they simply don’t associate the kill with dinner. However, over time, progress is made and the cubs become better and better at hunting and survival.
The experiment takes months—almost three years to be exact, before Ron and Julie are proficient-enough to get released onto a bigger game preserve and survive on their own. Wearing collars, Ron and Julie’s movements can be tracked by Varty and Salmoni.
The 1 hour 38-minute DVD is actually quite fascinating, thanks in part to spectacular scenery and creative camera work (Ron wears a specially-developed head cam which allows viewers to experience, first hand, point of view kill shots and chase scenes.) And it’s quite thrilling to see Julie finally get her first kill (up to a point, Ron was doing all the killing and Julie was rewarded with remains for her help.)
However, if you’re squeamish, this DVD might not be for you. There is a lot of graphic footage here, from the tiger’s kills to scenes of the two feasting upon their prey. Hell, during one particular hunt, the carnage is incredible as Ron and Julie go on a killing rampage, killing not just for food, but for the sheer pleasure of it (during the chase, the pair manage to rack up seven kills, sometimes toying with their catch prior to killing it and moving on to kill yet again.) Simply put, for such a beautiful documentary, this thing is pretty damn gruesome at times—and yet, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
In the end, Living with Tigers is a fascinating documentary that’s well worth your time, especially if you’re fond of animals and as long as you can stomach the killing. Yes, it’s violent as hell, but that violence is a necessary part of the film; without it, Living with Tigers wouldn’t be half as interesting as it is. If you dig animal documentaries, or tigers, this is a great way to waste an hour and a half.
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