Ten years ago, I had the privilege of seeing my first wild tiger, deep in the core of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, India. It didn’t come easy. We had days of no sightings, and only hints of their presence. After a lot of fruitless searching, we got the call and at around eleven am, boarded the elephant. The tigers were resting well away from any roads. The ride through the jungle was filmed by my friend, and I have recently found the VHS after a decade. Recalling my own memories, and watching the newly recovered footage… the forest was surreal. Truly beautiful, pristine and untouched. We moved through a gushing river with crystal clear water, through thick Sal growth and into a ravine deep in the jungle where we stopped. I recall looking into the distance, seeking my first glimpse, but in fact, just below us was a large sub-adult wild tiger. It is no exaggeration to say the animal radiated a presence, spirit, and at the same time a vulnerability, that I have seldom seen in front of my lens. So after bagging my shots, I put the camera down for five minutes and did a 360. The idea at the time was rather than remembering a close-up of a wild tiger through a viewfinder, it would be a far stronger memory seeing it with my own eyes, and I am so glad I did.
It was such a powerful experience, that it led me to photograph them constantly ever since. Whether that was at my local zoo, or back in India. More so than a photographic subject, I grew to understand her wider role in the natural world that includes us. Tigers are an umbrella species, and even humans, for all our innovation and technology, are still a part of this system.
To put it simply, if we can protect umbrella species, such as the tiger, we also protect the forests, the other jungle species and underground water reserves at the same time. Ultimately, our own long term survival. This very reason draws me back every year, and has given me a purpose and drive that is partially fulfilled by photography, but more so by helping to resurrect this declining cat. I have used my camera to capture the tiger aesthetically and created calendars and prints to raise money for their protection; I took storytelling images to educate and empower audiences, and now will embark on a long term project to further this purpose.
So this tiger day, ten years later I implore everyone to help support this iconic and vibrant species, whether that be through raising awareness through your own photography and blogs, or generating funds for charities. We only have one chance to preserve the tiger, let’s not hesitate to take it.
Please click here to see how you can help.