Broken Tail: A Tiger's Last Journey
Tigers at the Tipping Point

Tigers are the largest of the big cats, the most popular, and the most at-risk for extinction. Over the past 100 years, tiger populations have seen a decrease of around 95%. While exact counts are difficult to make, it has been widely accepted that perhaps as few as 3,200 tigers are currently in the wild. Even India, often regarded as the nation with the most tigers, has seen a significant drop in its Bengal tiger population over the past eight years, from 3,600 to just 1,400.

That we might see a day when tigers no longer roam the planet is not out of the question. Three of the nine subspecies of tiger are already extinct: the Bali tiger, limited to the island of Bali and the smallest of the subspecies, the Javan tiger found in the Indonesian island of Java, and the Caspian tiger, which – although nearly identical to the Siberian tiger – is still recognized as its own subspecies. All three became extinct within the past 80 years. Hunting and poaching, and habitat destruction have been largely to blame for their disappearance. And it is these factors that are also putting the remaining six subspecies at risk. The Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Sumatran, Siberian, and South China tigers continue to be pushed into small pockets of land as human development encroaches on the tiger’s natural habitat. We are at what has been referred to as a tipping point – a critical time when humans must step-up and institute policies and regulations to help the dwindling tiger population. Without such a concerted effort, the remaining six species will meet a fate similar to that of the Bali, Javan, and Caspian tigers. Few animals are in such dire straights.

tiger_range

The historic tiger range included most of Asia – from Turkey to the far eastern coast of Russia. Since the turn of the twentieth century, tigers have lost about 93% of that range. Most tiger populations are now found in southern Asia – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand, and Vietnam – and in the outskirts of northeast Russia. Though the list of countries may seem long, little land is dedicated to wild tigers. In these nations, tigers are generally confined to a series of reserves – areas of land deemed suitable and set aside for tigers and other indigenous wildlife. The first wave of tiger reserves was born in the mid-to-late twentieth century in response to a heightened awareness of diminishing tiger numbers. India’s first nine reserves were the result of an alarming 1972 tiger census that reported population numbers in the nation to be as low as 2,400. (That number has steadily risen, until recently.) While reserves are important, they aren’t perfect. Some reserves are poorly managed, most are too small, and many are isolated from other neighboring reserves. Tiger populations are highly fragmented – a tiger family living in one park tends to be isolated from tiger families living in other nearby reserves. According to filmmaker and tiger conservationist Colin Stafford-Johnson, restricting tigers’ geographical range is a serious issue, not only because it cuts the genetic variation of offspring, but because tigers are, by nature, meant to roam.

Stafford-Johnson spent 600 days filming a tiger family in India’s Ranthambhore National Park. One of the tigers Stafford-Johnson follows, Broken Tail, inexplicably left his home in Ranthambhore. After traveling over 100 miles outside the park, he was killed by a train in the city of Darra. For Stafford-Johnson, Broken Tail’s story reinforces what is painfully obvious – Tigers need more space. Sizable tropical and subtropical forests need to be zoned for tigers, and existing reserves need to be connected, creating long stretches of land for tigers to safely pass through. Without such designated land, tiger populations will remain in jeopardy.

If scientists are right and we are indeed in the midst of a tipping point for tigers, it is only a matter of time before the future of the tiger is sealed. While there is much that looks grim about the situation, as long as there remains any possibility to effect positive change for the world’s tigers, there is hope. Stafford-Johnson sees reason to be optimistic. Authorities have become better at tracking tigers, and their movements have shown that many tigers don’t stay within the confines of the park. Studies like this back the notion that tigers need a much wider geographical range than what most parks offer. And since the film aired, Darra Sanctuary has been designated a national park. Focusing on these small wins is key for Stafford-Johnson. “Once you lose your optimism, you might as well give up.”

Tags:
  • Elizabeth Joy Mueller

    Thank you for creating this amazing documentary and raising awareness of the need for tiger preservation. Incredible footage! Thank you!

  • Patricia Findley

    What a poignantly sad yet beautiful story. I am gravely worried about the future of the tigers and strongly believe we must do everything we possibly can to save them. If we do not, I believe that God will eventually hold us as a species responsible for our cavalier callous attitude toward the earth and our fellow creatures. How can we stop the greed? Surely someday there will be enough??? Thank you to Stafford-Johnson for his great work…wish we could share it with everybody so they would understand and come to appreciate all the creatures’ unique role in the magnificence of our world and respect them.

  • Susan Collacott

    Congratulations toColin Stafford -Johnson and Salim Ali for their commitment in making this wonderful film and the resulting designation in turning DArra into a tiger conservation area. I thought while watching your sensitive film that it would be a good idea to write a book about this magnificent tiger’s tale . Using stills from the film, and simple sentences to make the story you could tell the tale while endearing the tiger to children and at the same time making them understand how the tiger’s existence creates the healthy environment in which they live. birds will contiue to thrive, animals to go on producing in all in the balance of life, the ecosystem. This book could be distributed to libraries, churches, shrines an family groups all along the path of the tiger around and between reserves. These books could be funded by wwf who surely have wealthy supporters who would help to pay for a project like this. It would help to do as you said in your film. It would perhaps educate locals about the tiger and show them photos. They could learn how to live in the world wih theTigers. There should be some real options for people such as payment for reporting anyone who endangers a tiger. I was in India a few years ago and one of the reserves were very succesful in hiring local people and getting them on side with understanding.

  • Maddy

    I was so happy to see contiguous land designated as a nat’l park. Still unresolved is what can be done about training the tigers to avoid the sound of the train, a decibel unpleasant to them or how to supply tigers with more balanced mate ratios so broken tale wouldnt need to wander and water sources.. If China turned around panda’s fate so we need to do so InDIA. The local population seemed cooperative. These national parks could support surrounding communities with occasional photo safaris. I see progress with Japan being repelled from killing whales for meat and Colorado repopulating big horn sheep in the appropriate habitat.

  • Harshil Patel

    I happened to be in India for the last two months and had an opportunity to visit Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. It was my seventh trip to the park in last ten years. I saw pretty much all the animals which are native to this park except the Tiger until my recent trip. I seriously thought that the park rangers are lying to the public and there are no Tigers left in the park. This kind of practices are pretty common in India since the rangers and the other forest officials want to keep their jobs so they make up numbers. I was getting pretty frustrated, so I told myself that this is the last time I am going to try and what do you know? I was a female Tiger in the wild for the first time and my guide told me it is Machli. I did not believe him that time but after watching the episode of the broken tale, I am now convinced it was Machli by the markings on her face. Tiger in the wild looks completely different then in the zoo. The skin is so shinny and even the size is bigger. I hope that the government of India educates people who lives around the parks or even move them so they will not harm the wild animals. Their cattle is grazing the valuable grasses from the park which does not leave much for the deers and other animals which are the prey of Tigers. They need strict laws which protects the Tigers, without that the Tigers will be gone way earlier than we think. I was one of the lucky ones which saw a Tiger in the wild and so did my ten years old son. I hope more people will join the “Save The Tiger” foundation to protect this gorgeous animal.

  • Suzanne Vaccaro

    Just wondering if you know what happened to Broken Tail’s brother, Slant Ear……..
    Thanks!

  • Jan ONeill

    What can we do? Which wildlife organizations are doing the most for tigers?

  • Deneb

    The Last Journey of Brokentail, the tiger was a wonderful but sad story. He was a very large and elegant tiger and Collin told the story very sensitively.
    I hope the Indian Government focuses on saving these elegant and beautiful animals for the future generation as well as for our planet Earth. We from around the world must help India and other countries such as Thailand and Africa to keep the focus on conservation of Tigers, lions, elephants and others who are at the tipping point. Theses are magnificent animals gift of God to enjoy and to keep the balance of biodiversity.

    Collins, thank you very much for your sensitive film and making Brokentail come alive for us.

  • Diane Gordon

    This was beautifully photographed. Is there or will there be a book version of this film? I hope so…I’d love a copy.

  • Sam Rogers

    What a truly wonderful story. So sad, but really wonderful.
    I wish there was a way for everyone to be made to see this, as they could not fail to be moved to action of some kind to save other tigers from poor Brokentail’s fate.
    Huge congratulations to Colin Stafford-Johnson and Salim Ali for their beautiful and sensitive presentation.
    I would really like to know which organisation would be the best one to support, in order to help the tigers.
    Thank you

  • Angel Alaris

    Thankyou x

  • Shelley Sale

    I can not thank you enough, Colin Stafford-Johnson and Salim Ali, for airing this sad story, on Broken Tail. It was truely awesome and showed great empathy. I hope that so much more awareness, offers these beautiful cats and the other indigenous wildlife, to live in peace. Thank you very much.

  • kate Zebedee

    please info-onwho-where -what ?!?!?!
    is doin something positive 4 the tiger cause-inconceivable that tiggs are potentially gonna be found in zoo`s=private collections-huntin clubs & of course the tiger farms……………… :-( :-( :-(

    evidently even some of the forest rangers are in the back pockets of the poachin cartels-as indicated by the hunter interviewed by the duo as they retraced brokentails journey-he had all the right genes-the heart+spirit of a tiger -ripe to set up his own territory wiv a mate……………………….. the gene bank bein reduced with every tiger
    poached ;-( :-( :-( :-(

    which organisation actually is right at the forefront of education+protection of the local poplace-who are often eekin out a frugal existance in some of the last wild vestiges of tiger land ?!?!?!?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGOJDQ7JHSU Love Poem

    Like the publish, it’s pretty to ruminate any individual as expectant about shot and hustle over I am!

  • R. Mancini

    These photographic journeys are what I appreciate when educating people about nature – birds – animals. Filmed in their habitat we can understand what drives them, how they eat, hunt, live, reproduce, fight. No zoo can give us these intriguing, tantalizing glimpses into the actual world of animals. That Broken Tail never found a mate is as sad as the whale which is lost in the richness of the ocean and appears to be an unknown species or at least has a song which is not being answered. With these species on the brink, and so much hope is there to increase their numbers – to imagine a world without these great animals – elephants, tigers, great apes – is painful. A world composed of humans is not … pretty.

  • A. Malaspina

    I saw this early this morning… thank you for an important though heartbreaking story. Maybe it will propel people to do more to save the tigers. I hope so.

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2014 THIRTEEN Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.