TV Review: Natural World – Tiger Island

The Natural World series on BBC2 can always be relied on to provide highly entertaining and informative programming. Just what is needed as we head into the Olympics.

Tiger Island was all about the Sumatran tiger – but with a difference. This programme looked at a local millionaire businessman who wanted to rehabilitate man-eating tigers, so-called conflict tigers, and then to release them back into the wild.

Even amongst the tiger experts around the world the idea of releasing conflict tigers back into the wild is controversial.   It’s essential though that every Sumatran tiger is given the chance of life if the species is to survive. With about 600 left in the wild according to the latest survey last week every individual tiger is an essential part of the population.

Tomy Winata is the businessman behind the plans and this programme took a close look at his project.

Sumatra, the lush and green tropical island of Indonesia, is fast losing its forests and its tiger habitat. As the forests are clear-cut and human habitation expands there is increasing conflict between man and tiger.

Currently 12 killer tigers are being held in a safari park on the island. Caged up and with no real prospect until now of release. But can Winata get the tigers ready for release?

The plan was examined by Dr Alan Rabinowitz  probably the worlds leading tiger specialist and founder of Panthera the big cat campaigning group and even he was concerned over the plans.

Winata owns a private nature reserve and so far he has released 5 tigers onto his land.  Each tiger is radio collared to keep tracked of it. With 170 villagers living on the private nature reserve it’s important to keep the tigers under observation.

Not everyone is happy over the plans and critics have attacked both the plans and the reputation of the man himself.

The reserve is surrounded on two sides by ocean and to the north by a national park. It;s patrolled by Winata’s own private conservation guards.

Local villagers have never seen the tigers up close but there are reports of the tigers killing livestock and pets.  There’s no reports though of any attack on people since the tigers were first released in 2008.

Winata still has some tigers to be released but not all of them will be. In the cages Winata has multiple killing tigers which are too dangerous to release.

It’s amazing how rumours can spread about tigers and ruin their reputation without any evidence. One such example was a female. It was caught 2.5 miles away from where a family of four had been found killed by a tiger but there was no evidence as to which tiger killed the family. The female was caught and shipped to a local zoo and soon it was being blamed for 15 deaths. As a female the tiger could be essential for the continuation of the species. now the tiger is at Winatas and being assessed for release.

There now appears to be a waiting list of tigers to go to Winatas facility for release but the man himself is concerned over how many tigers he can have in the reserve safely. The concern is that it is not just the five already released but the resident population before the region became a reserve. There could be as many as 20 resident tigers already.

Some of the process of keeping tiger ready for the wild is not always a pleasant experience but needs to be done. Tigers have to keep their killer instinct if they are to survive in the wild and feeding them dead prepared meat is no use so live pigs are put in the cages for the tiger to kill itself.

A compelling story about a fascinating man  and his plans to help save the  magnificent Sumatran tiger. Watch it on BBCi  Player if you missed it. It’s worth it to see the camera trap footage alone.