Discovery Channel debuts ‘Tigerland’

Concurrently, the film focuses on the journey of Russian-born Pavel Fomenko, who for the last two decades has been working to save the Amur (“Siberian”) tiger in the Russian Far East.

March 20, 2019 03:58
2 minute read.
A PHOTO from the Discovery Channel’s ‘Tigerland.’

A PHOTO from the Discovery Channel’s ‘Tigerland.’. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Tigerland, a documentary on the dangers faced by tigers in Asia, and of two men who have dedicated their lives to altering their fate, will premiere on The Discovery Channel (HOT ch. 44, YES ch. 40) beginning March 31.

There were once some 100,000 tigers spread across the Asian continent. Today, fewer than 4,000 are left in the wild. The documentary was directed by Academy-Award winning filmmaker Ross Kauffman (Born into Brothels) and produced by Oscar-winner Fisher Stevens (The Cove). It focuses on Kailash Sankhala, often called “Tiger Man,” who spent the second half of the 20th century trying to raise awareness of the dwindling number of tigers in and around his native India.

Despite the animal being a sacred and feared animal in traditional Indian culture, colonial British in the 19th and 20th century were avid tiger-hunters. Even after British occupation ended in 1947, tigers continued to be hunted for tourist sport. Sankhala estimated that in 1969, fewer than 2,000 were left in India. The species has remained at risk because it has become a black-market commodity; tiger body parts are considered to have healing properties in some Eastern medical traditions. 

Tigerland revisits the story of Sankhala, often as seen through the eyes of his grandson, Amit, a conservationist who has taken up Kailash’s mission; and Jai Bhati, Amit’s nephew and Sankhala’s great-grandson, a pre-teen who spends his spare time in the forests that his forefather felt called to protect. 

Concurrently, the film focuses on the journey of Russian-born Pavel Fomenko, who for the last two decades has been working to save the Amur (“Siberian”) tiger in the Russian Far East.

There, a thriving tiger population dating back centuries has also been reduced to a few hundred, due to a rise in illegal poaching since the breakup of the former Soviet Union. A life-long hunter in his Russian homeland, Fomenko explains, “Only a hunter understands how much he is losing from losing the wild nature. One day he returns and the forest is no longer there.”

Tigerland follows Fomenko through his complex role as director of rare species conservation for the World Wildlife Fund in Russia. In addition to his forensic analyses of animal corpses that are used to prosecute poachers, Fomenko and his colleagues embark on dangerous missions to humanely capture, tag and release tigers who roam out of their protected areas.

“As we dug into the world of tigers, we were struck by the people committed to these magnanimous creatures. We searched far and wide and felt the richness of the storytelling in focusing on two men, separated by 50 years, who come from Russia and India, two countries with the largest tiger populations in the world,” director Kauffman said. 

“In our film, India is the legacy story and Russia is the future story.”

Kauffman described a close encounter on the Sino-Russian border. “Pavel and his colleagues were looking for the tiger cubs very close to the Sino-Russian border. We didn’t realize at first just how close to the border we were. And a couple of days later we learned that the FSB [formerly the KGB] had cautioned the Russians on our crew that as Americans we were not allowed to film in that area. We came up with a clever solution to continue filming, but there were a couple of days when we weren’t sure we’d be able to capture what we needed.”

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