Aaron Schachter: Tigers have been making news in India, and not good news. Wildcats have killed seventeen people there in the last month. Steve Winter and Sharon Guynup are very familiar with these man-eaters. They've spent the past few years photographing and writing about tigers in the wild for National Geographic. They're also authors of a new book entitled "Tigers Forever" and some of the book's pictures are, well, let's just say they're in the tiger's face. I asked Steve Winter how he gets that close.
Steve Winter: I'm either on the back of an elephant with the anti-poaching guards or in a jeep. But I use remote cameras also that are run by an infrared beam and I place them in locations that tigers visit, and so I can get up-close and personal pictures without being killed.
Schachter: Tell me one of the wildest stories you have of trying to get the perfect shot of these big cats.
Winter: I saw a tree that was pretty much shredded by a tiger. They use is as a communication scratch-tree, like telling another male, "This is my territory," or telling a female, "Hey, you come to this tree often?" And so I put a remote camera up above down so when the tiger comes up the camera is actually photographing the tiger scratching the tree. And I'm up there fixing it because elephants just love anything new, and so they'd moved the camera a little bit with their trunk. All of a sudden they yelled, "Tiger. Rhino." and I look off in the distance and I see this rhino and her baby running towards us in the jungle and the tiger had run off. And all of a sudden she stopped, looked at the jeep, and just barreled right at us, and I'm standing on the roll bar on top of the jeep working on this camera, and she just smashed right into the jeep as I'm jumping down back into it and hit us five times.
Schachter: You're laughing about it.
Winter: It's funny now.
Schachter: Yeah. Now, Sharon Guynup, the subheading of your book is "Saving the World's Most Endangered Big Cat" and I was struck by that phrase "The World's Most Endangered Cat" because every zoo seems to have a tiger. Are they really all that endangered?
Sharon Guynup: They are only three thousand wild tigers left. They are scattered in small pockets across Asia in twelve countries. So tigers are hanging on the edge.
Schachter: And why are they becoming endangered? They don't have tusks. Are people killing them for sport?
Guynup: Tigers are poached for almost every part of their body, but the most valuable parts are their bones which are used in tiger-bone wine - a very expensive tonic used in traditional Chinese medicine, and also there's a huge market for tiger-skin furniture and most of the trade is going to China.
Schachter: Your book includes some shots of people who have been injured by tigers, quite significantly in some cases. Those people are not poachers. They weren't trying to hurt the tigers. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a tough issue.
Guynup: Indians have been very, very tolerant. They've lived with the tigers forever and the animal is deeply woven into religion and culture. But now, with huge demand from the black market for both skins and traditional Chinese medicine, there's great incentive to kill them.
Winter: A lot of problems with human-animal conflict either come from going into a protected area that is set aside for tigers or tigers not being able to find prey and coming out into a village to kill a cow or something like that, and then there's revenge killings, that a person will electrocute or poison a tiger. So living with predators is something that local people need to somehow benefit for, to be a part of all these safaris that go on, and economically to benefit.
Schachter: Photographer Steve Winter and journalist Sharon Guynup. They are authors of the new book for National Geographic called "Tigers Forever: Saving the World's Most Endangered Big Cat". Thanks you guys.
Winter: You've welcome. Thank you.
Guynup: Thank you.