Two filmmakers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare race against the clock to capture high-speed footage of a Siberian tiger being released into the wild. In the past, conventional cameras captured only a fleeting glimpse of a tiger as it left its enclosure to return to the wild. But the IFAW hopes high-speed, high-definition videos of these events will inspire people to help with tiger conservation. I spoke with Michael Booth, one of the filmmakers, about his piece How to Catch a Tiger.
Where did you come up with the idea for your documentary?
Siberian (aka Amur) tigers have been in trouble for many years. Their numbers are now down to around 350-450 in the wild, so groups like the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have been working with partner groups in the Russian Far East to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and rehabilitate orphaned tigers for release back into the wild.
Tiger releases had been filmed in the past, but all we could see was a split second of a blurry tiger crossing the screen—hardly imagery that would inspire people to help with tiger conservation. When we heard that another tiger (Zolushka) was going to be released, our goal was to capture the moment like no one had ever done in the past by using a special ultra-slow-motion camera.
How long have you worked with fellow filmmaker Brant Backlund?
Brant and I met more than ten years ago during our natural history filmmaking postgrad in New Zealand, but it wasn’t until 2012, when Brant joined our team at IFAW, that we started co-producing again. How to Catch a Tiger was one of our first collaborations for IFAW.
What do you hope will be the take-away for people after watching your piece?
I hope folks enjoy seeing Zolushka’s leap back to the wild and realize that Siberian tigers are in deep trouble. If we aren’t able to save the largest and most charismatic cat of all, what hope do we have for any other species? I can’t imagine having to explain to my kids why we as humans let things like this happen.
What was the most challenging part of this shoot?
How utterly unpredictable it was. We spent days planning and rehearsing how we would film the release, but you can’t anticipate the millions of things that can go wrong during the capture, transport, and release stages. More importantly, you can never tell a wild Siberian tiger what to do, so we were all at her mercy. There was something really powerful about how she ran into the forest, paused and looked back at us, let out an unbelievable roar, and took off.
Do you know how Zolushka is doing back in the wild?
Zolushka is doing great! Her tracking collar and dozens of camera traps positioned in her forest habitat are showing us that she has established a territory of her own and has been successful in hunting and living a perfectly normal life. It has now been just over a year and our ultimate hope is that she will be able to breed with the resident male tiger and have cubs of her own soon.
What are you working on next?
We’ve finished a feature length documentary called Huntwatch about the Canadian seal hunt. It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime film because we’re able to draw on 45 years of footage that IFAW has gathered. Most people are surprised to hear that this hunt still takes place, and the film really opens up a window into this issue.
We have several new and exciting projects coming up at IFAW involving everything from tigers and elephants in Bhutan to orphan wildlife rehabilitation efforts around the world, so stay tuned and remember to check out our website to find out more.
Follow IFAW on Twitter @action4ifaw.
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