Broken Tail: A Tiger's Last Journey

Watch a preview of the PBS Nature film, Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey.

The tiger known as Broken Tail was born in Ranthambhore National Park in northern India, a vast, natural reserve for a wide variety of Indian wildlife, but especially famous for its Bengal tigers. Historically revered in Indian tradition, tigers in the area were once protected by maharajahs, and then by government sanctuaries and conservation projects. But poachers have proven to be nearly unstoppable over the years, and tigers have struggled to survive, even with the protection of the park. At one point, there were as few as 26 tigers left in the reserve, and today, the fate of each and every tiger is important to the species as a whole.

Conservation efforts have been intensified in the face of the crisis, and the struggle continues. Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey is the story of the life and death of a tiger destined for greatness, who may still lead the way to a better future for those of his kind.

From the beginning, wildlife filmmaker Colin Stafford-Johnson could tell Broken Tail was special. Curious, exuberant, and charismatic, Broken Tail wasn’t afraid of anything. Stafford-Johnson and local guide, Salim Ali, spent over 600 days following and filming Broken Tail and his family. Then, one day, Broken Tail simply disappeared. A year later, Johnson and Ali heard news that Broken Tail was killed by a train in Darra, 100 miles away from Ranthambhore. This discovery raised new questions. How did Broken Tail travel so far away from home? Why did he leave in the first place?

Stafford-Johnson and Ali set off on horseback, tracing Broken Tail’s last journey, looking for answers. Talking to poachers and interviewing eyewitnesses, the duo travel across India, learning some surprising facts from this remarkable tiger’s passage, and hoping they will help in the conservation of this endangered species.

  • Issis

    Beautiful photography, moving story … loved it! The photographs of earlier eras and their hunting frenzies was sickening .. especially the dead animals, including mothers and cubs, displayed on walls and in showcases.

  • Gail Ledbetter

    I would just like to thank Colin Stafford-Johnson and Salim Ali, for their tireless work to track down and find out what happened to the tiger Broken Tail in his last days prior to his death.
    I just finished watching your show on Nature and was really moved to write this message. Should it find its way to you, I was happy to see at the end of the show that Darra Sanctuary has come into being as a result. I think you were able to make a small contribution to the protection of the tiger’s future territory.
    I also believe that there are so many species that are being threatened unnecessarily because of the human population . It would be very sad indeed if the only tigers alive were the ones we now have in our local zoos.

  • Denise Dignan

    I was interested in supporting the tiger preserve movement in India. Is there an organization or branch of the Indian government that I can contact? Denise Dignan

  • K. Rathore

    Probably one of the best documentaries I have seen on tigers. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I am afraid that tiger has no chance of survival in the wild in India orelsewhere. Unfortunately, tiger is doomed because of the chronic poverty/hunger in India, indifference of the facebook/iPOD generation, the greed of middlemen, and the idiotic belief of the Chinese in medicinal properties of tiger parts. Colin Stafford-Johnson is right in that we will have hard time explaining our grandchildren that we could not save this magnificent animal.

  • Ray Arocho

    I hardly ever write messages. It takes something really extraordinary for me to do so, like the story about the tiger cub Broken Tail in Nature. I couldn’t help tears falling down my face. We will have to get extremely aggressive to save these species in extinction. But we cannot wait, we got to do it now before is too late. We got to give them their space to roam free. Government of these countries must realize how important are these animals to our own existence. We must speak to them aggressively and make them realize the importance of teaching the population to treat these animals with the utmost respect. I praise wildlife filmmaker Colin Stafford-Johnson for making this beautiful but sad documentary and hope that India recapacitates and treat these beautiful and majestic felines for what they really are, a national treasure.

  • Carol Reins

    This was funny and sad at the same time. Beautiful to watch these majestic creatures…we need them. Just because we do. Let’s work to save them, people>

  • Sartaj

    In my opinion, tigers are the most gorgeous creatures ever to walk the earth. Every necessary precaution should be taken for the survival of these majestic animals so they can thrive in the wild.

    If they are ever to be extinct, that would be the most ignominious moment in history and a blemish on mankind that we could never erase.

  • Van

    A beautiful program – viewers share the heartbreak with Salim and Colin over Broken Tail, yet they give hope that his untimely death will result in better natural havens for the tigers of northern India and in their natural habitats elsewhere. The hour is late, but there is time. The choice is ours.

  • Michael John Hussey

    I enjoyed Mr. Stafford-Johnson’s film on Broken Tail’s Last Journey! A very moving story on the loss of a
    beautiful animal.

  • ernie

    This was such a sad story. I hope that some good will come of it…
    I guess he didnt realize how fast the train was coming.

  • Roxanne Sitarz

    I have been watching the Nature series on PBS since I was a child. I have only cried twice while watching the simply breathtaking documentaries; once, when I was about 10, during an episode on the plight of wolves (this was during the chaotic time of wold re-introduction to Yellowstone), and today, when I watched “Broken Tail”.

    Thank you for such memorable episode and I eagerly wait for more.

  • Jim Roehrdanz

    A great documentary. Highlights the unfortunate hunting and poaching of tigers to near extinction and the amazing travels of one member of the species.

  • Arlene Bowman

    Viewed Broken Tail’s Last Journey about a tiger called Broken Tail last night. Very good. I luv animals. Of all the mammals I like, I like the cat the best, the household and feral. I am attracted to tales about cats: Chronicles of Narnia, the household cat burglar and only recently I read in the Center for Biological Diversity, February 8-11 newsletter, a man saw an ocelot cat in the Huachuca Mountains in southern Arizona.
    Arizona Fish and Game verified that the cat was an ocelot cat, which is an endangered species like the tigers of the world. So when I heard that this story was going to air on television, I said I have to watch this documentary.

    The cinematographer took really beautiful shots, scenes, interactions of the mother tiger and her two young sibling tigers, the two siblings and of Broken Tail himself. Scenes were edited through out the piece. Especially I liked the scene where the two big tigers suckled their mom as big as they were. They were big youths. Nice. The cinematography of the tigers depicted how the cinematographer felt about the tigers. He really loved tigers. The physical beauty of the tigers he saw, I saw it through his eyes.

    Broken Tail wandered a long way from where he grew up.

    The country side of India where Colin Stafford-Johnson and the other man horse backed on was beautiful too. I did not know India looked like that.

    I volunteer at the local SPCA with cat care every Tuesday morning, taking care of cats, cleaning their cages, feeding them and other chores. The volunteer experience has educated me a lot about cats which I did not know a lot about before. I did not know much dogs either, but now I know a little better.

    Yes, there are endangered species of animals living out. Once they are gone, cannot bring them back. To make a video like this about an endangered species like tigers like Broken Tail is a good way to get the word or message out to the public and people that the we must respond, get informed about animals and do something about it or they will be gone forever.

    I am a Dine’ filmmaker who usually shoots my own videos. I really luved this documentary about Broken Tail. Beautiful, but sad. Thanks to the filmmaker, Colin Stafford-Johnson and your crew for recording and helping to make it. Thanks to PBS for airing it. Nature is one of my favorite shows on television. I always watch it. Some shows are better than others, but most of the programs I like.

  • Jenn Leckrone

    I watched this last night and was hesitant–as I always am when watching shows with animals in them (not because I don’t like animals but because watching them in the wild many times leads to the death of some kind of animal which touches me deeply). I don’t enjoy it when animals are killed for whatever reason (I know it’s part of life) and I always end up crying at the end of the program. Knowing this and being partly hesitant to watch it, I still felt compelled to keep watching and I’m happy I did. Even though I was very saddened by Broken Tail’s passing, I felt that it was important to make his death “count” for something–for me to be able to share this story. We need to do something to protect these beautiful creatures before it’s too late. It’s overwhelming to think of all the work that must be done to start saving our tigers–our whole wildlife, but it starts with one step at a time and we all most not give up–EVER! These animals deserve to live out their lives without interference from us! GOD gave us dominion over them, but He created them to dwell on this earth with us and we have NO right to think we can take over this plane (and dominion does NOT mean the right to abuse, mistreat or kill them!)t! People need to learn to love and respect them more instead of thinking they are here for their purposes! I think we all need to look deeply within and ask ourselves what we personally can do to turn this around. Now…before there are no tigers in the wild!

  • John W Faulkner

    Hi Colin

    Just saw your film Broken tail last night, can’t what to watch it agian! Is 600 days of filming the norm, to get an hour film. I have fishing video’s that are only 30 miniutes and I know they film for 14 months. I have just starting to film under water, hour of filming for only a few good shots.

    I an not sure but i thought I herd you say in the film that Broken tail travaled 200 miles but above it’s say 100?
    and i wanted to know was that 200 mile, like if i drove 200 miles or was it 200 mile as a crow flies.

    it is also a same that poeple do not get that with out a top preator in the food chane, that it all falls a-part.
    in the old days in our film they kill tiger just to kill, a for tropies, and did little or nothing with the tiger.
    it’s is the same way in the old photo’s of people caughting fish, there are 50 to a 100 our more fish and most are larger that most people have caught in time. i do a lot of fish, but i don’t eat that much fish.
    any how getting of track, thanks for the film. like i said earlier can’t what to watch again.

    thaks for the hard work and long hours, put the view looked great

    keep on filming
    thanks again, John

  • Asya

    I cried- so sad

  • Agoyothe of the Southwest

    How much more destruction will we “allow” to continue before we do something to come to the aide of Broken Tail’s Mother and her cubs? Let’s respect and care for Broken Tail’s spirit.

    Just think what these folks above me (and below me) can do if we organize and act!

    1,400 Tigers to 6,000,000,000 Humans and counting?

    I know, I know, it’s in another country, but what if, what if….we don’t act and just wring our hands and cry?

  • Edward Cook

    These beautiful creatures evolved over thousands of years but not to deal with human technology. Who can say which is the superior species in the end? The one that survives or the one that demonstrated the most grace, dignity, soul and heart, while being true to its heritage?

    Broken Tail was like a Voyager Spacecraft searching for life. He kept instinctively searching for something that was no longer there. How could he have known? He was hopeful, not sad. We mourn not for him but for ourselves.

  • Rohini Tambe

    I really enjoyed this show. Is there a DVD available for purchase?

  • Prithvi Reddy

    A very moving story told of our dwindling population of tigers, one of the most beautiful animals there is. Are our grandchildren going to be seeing the animals in the wild?
    I have had the privilege of seeing these wonderful animals in the wild. How magnificent they are!!
    I have also seen the ravages of civilization and its enchroachment into the forests. A good example is the Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur. The water levels are down and there were cattle all over the place. In addition we saw two carcasses of cattle in the sanctuary with one being eaten by Jackals!!! What a change from 18 years ago.
    Bhandhavgarh and Khana wildlife sanctuaries are seeing too many tourists with no control by the forest officers as to how these animals are being “hounded”.
    The politicians meanwhile are fattening their purses and making promises that are not kept.

  • Louise Turgeon

    I missed “Broken Tail” but would VERY much like to see it. When will it be on next? (I am in NY – Albany or NYC PBS stations). Thank you.

  • Randi

    I couldn’t finish the video. I stopped at about 35 minutes when the clips began to show tigers being killed for hunt in earlier years. I just could not watch it. I do not blame poachers who are being paid next to nothing to risk their lives for another mans selfish attainment. What can we do? Its hard to work against the hand that has the money (power). Especially since families depend on the funding that comes from killing these beautiful animals. Not even the animal kingdom kills for sport. SO what does that make us? Mongrels?

  • Judith

    I saw this several weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about it. I have come back to this page to look for something that I can to help the tigers – donate money, probably. I just saw “The Last Lions” at the theater and can’t get these beautiful cats off my mind. These animals have to be saved. One thing that haunts me, for some reason, is that their destruction has occurred during my own lifetime – 50 years. That has a very personal meaning for me. So – I’m off to find some way to help Broken Tail’s species.

  • eva

    thanks for the video :)

  • Leslie Jenson

    Excellent! A must see! Thank God there are men and women in the world who spend their lives trying to educate humans and protect such magnificent creatures. Tigers are stunning and ever so smart! Thank you to the Indian people for being so compassionate to these animals and trying to do what you can to protect them. Thank God we’ve advanced beyond that “colonialism ideology” that we are the supreme species and have to kill predators. The same thing happened with the Buffalo in America. The next generation have challenges that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Let’s hope and pray that they will be able to meet them and secure not only Tigers but all vanishing species.

  • elaine

    This is one of the most moving and beautiful stories I have seen. You are making a tremendous contribution towards helping tigers with this film.

  • curtis

    this was a great story but very deep and moved me to feel a sense of what happened to broken tail when they found he was killed by a train. i to have lost pets and know it hurts and since i love animals watching one go through so much and die in such a tragic way was very sad. im glad i got to know about such a wonderful and beautiful animal that has a special place in heaven. rest in peace broken tail and thank you for sharing your story with me and the rest of the world. you will never be forgotten and your spirit lives on hunting and roaming the lands.

  • loveanimals

    I love all animals i break down crying becaouse i love them!!! i wish i could do something How could man be so greeedy we do not relize we have magnificent things here on earth !! I dream of one day working and helping tiger They are extrordinar!!! I hope they around long enough for me to help them!!

  • claudia piccione

    loved, loved this movie, saw it on PBS. I don’t see “Broken Tail’s” life as a tragedy. That cat kicked ass!

  • mrtiger

    I love tigers, but was disappointed with this film. Patchy cinematography, bad story telling, random shots with no explanations. Sadly, a missed opportunity to spread the message about tiger conversation.

  • Mary Lou Davies

    This story, which I saw on Jan. 18, 2012, reminds me of the one currently going on here in the West. A male grey wolf, OR-7 or Journey, left his “pack” (four other animals in NE Oregon) in December 2011, I think, apparently in search of others, particularly female. The difference between him and Broken Tail is that he is fitted with a GPS which gives his position continuously. By the readings from this collar, the scientists involved in this project have been able to track him over some 800 miles thus far! I am amazed at the reaction to this single predator: in Northern California there was actually a meeting with the Department of Fish and Game and the public (concerned ranchers, environmentalists, etc) to make up a strategy on how to deal with these predators — although there are none, only this transient representative. Knowing the mentality of people, I will not be surprised to learn that he will be shot before he finds other wolves. As I write, OR-7 is probably in Nevada.
    These animals are beautiful and so dignified in their world. Man comes out so much less… At least, by being captured on film by Colin Stafford-Johnson, Broken Tail will live far beyond the realm of the normal tiger.

  • Scott

    I don’t understand… If the people of India have such a high regard for wildlife and preservation (as the program indicates), how would they have ever allowed the tigers to be killed in the first place?

  • Eagleriver

    Habitat, conservation, education are key. Learn, make contact, help conservation worldwide. I hunt; hunters are more conservation involved than most. Broken Tail motivates me to learn about tigers, India’s habitat, conservation challenges. Long live hunters in the wild, long live wild places, creatures. Invest in habitat, research, and local solutions. 7 billion is enough of us. Make contact with nature; leave no child inside.

  • Terry

    Being one of the many moved by this extraordinary Tiger and program, I would like to contribute to the saving of the habitat to help the plight of this magnificent animal. How can I help? Is Collin Stafford-Johnson directly involved in this movement for contact or is there another way to make contact?

  • pritha singh

    I was awestruck by Nature’s presentation of Broken Tail. As Gail commented, “I would just like to thank Colin Stafford-Johnson and Salim Ali, for their tireless work to track down and find out what happened to the tiger Broken Tail in his last days prior to his death. Even more than Broken Tail was the incredible ways and customs captured by Colin. The “dance of life” (fight) between the mother tigress and the male… the suckling practice of the ingenue cubs. And the most reverend capture of the images and way of life of our tigers by Colin… I love and admire the way he captured the language of tigers through their expressive eyes, their body language and gesture… in the Indian way of thought and action, Colin conjured the “mudra” concept… the highest, and most prayerful gestures and gestation of aware and spiritual beings…. and we thought human beings were at the top of the food chani!!! Thank you Colin… Thank you PBS! You are a BIG reason why I have become who I am. Love and Shantih. Pritha

  • Melissa

    Just saw Broken Tail. Everyone that knows me knows my love of tigers. I even have one tattooed on me. This entire episode made me cry. Especially the part where the famous people used to come out and kill them and then it showed the shrine with all the stuffed tigers. I cried like you wouldnt believe. I think it was a very beautifully done video. Thank you for doing it !

  • Julie Lynn

    Dear Colin,
    Thank you so very much for your amazing film-making and geniune heart-felt compassion for Broken-Tail and his kind. That said, it was devastatingly sad to the core that, to your point, we have so many resources for so many things, and we are all just watching by while this great animal diminishes before our very eyes. Your work has been invaluable to bring this to light once again. Those clips of the movie industry hunting all those tigers literally made me cry – how unneccessary, how gluteonous, how disrespectful of life and how wrong.
    In your opinion, what can one person do to help turn this around, since you have been so ‘upclose and personal’? God bless you and thank you for letting us know Broken Tail – what a great, great tiger!

  • debbie cardillo

    wow what a beautiful portrail of this tigers life.It brought so much insite into perfect perspective.Only a woman usually brings such tenderess to a story.I think kids should be watching this type of stuff. It teaches them about the things that really count in this life Thank you ps.wish I could have shared your experience

  • anna morris

    Enjoyed the show about tiger ‘Broken Tail.’ So very sorry he met his demise of railroad tracks. It is known by train engineers in the US, any animal getting between the rails of a railroad track becomes mesmerized and is unable to jump free. Thus herds of domestic & wild animals as well as single animals run before the train until they are run over.

  • Rebecca

    I saw this show on PBS and was floored by it. Colin – you said your dad called you Bee becauseyhou were alwas busy, like a bee, For the pasr several years, Ive bee called “Bee” too, short for Becky – and MY dad, bless his heart, called me Tiger when I was younger. Thus, I have always been fascinate by, and fond of tigers. This show broke my heart. Poor B rokentail! I hope we can save the tigers, bur it seems pretty bleak.

  • Ravi

    So sad ! another tiger died in such a young age. human population is 7 billion and still increasing. no place left for big animals like leopards, tigers , elephants, rhinos. unless population falls below 1 billion , no habitat will be left for animals.western hunters had done so much damage to wild life in asia and africa in early 20th century.

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