One of the most dangerous beasts in the jungle, it pushes out other creatures, pollutes its own habitat, and often kills for the pure love of it.
But no one ever started a campaign to ban human beings from the wild.
Instead, animals are the ones often targeted for removal, even when they’re guilty of nothing more than being themselves. Tiger 24, an intriguing new documentary, finds its drama by focusing on one particular animal, and the complicated campaigns for and against it as various rights are considered and competing claims weighed.
If it sounds a bit legalistic, that’s because it is. In India, after years of slaughter, tigers are now protected by law. They roam freely in jungles within a large undeveloped “core,” which is then surrounded by an empty “buffer” zone. Outside that zone, human neighbors safely live their own separate lives. Both species coexist.
But sometimes there is no buffer zone. Sometimes poor villagers ignore it, trekking into the core to collect firewood, graze their cattle, or simply find a quiet, secluded place to relieve themselves. They don’t see themselves as trespassers.
Tigers, apparently, see it differently.
Director Warren Pereira focuses on one animal, tagged T-24 by the government. He’s a magnificent beast, 600-pounds of orange-and-black beauty, padding around on massive paws and bringing down his prey with a single bite. With one long-time mate and two new cubs, he’s a regal and revered presence.
Except that, over the last five years, four men who ventured into his territory have been torn to shreds.
Although, as the film goes on, it becomes clear that – well, nothing is very clear. It’s possible that T-24s adult son could be the killer. Questions of how the humans died arise, too. If they were attacked from the front, that suggests a surprise encounter and self-defense, and leaves the tiger blameless; if they were attacked from behind, that suggests the tiger stalked them, and has developed a taste for man.
The answers are hotly debated, but while Pereira gives everyone a chance to speak – and includes some gruesome photos of the tiger’s human victims — it’s clear his sympathies are with T-24.
Yours may be, too. Not only villagers, but religious pilgrims and foreign tourists now traipse through this unprotected “preserve,” often passing with yards of the animals. Should there be any surprise one animal strikes back?
Except, now that one has, how do you respond?
This is pretty much a one-person film, and at times it’s clear Pereira has spread himself too thin. Although the photography is stunning, and the editing on point, he isn’t a natural interviewer, narrator or on-camera presence. He also fails to provide any real cultural context, examining the tiger’s role in religion, myth and national iconography. Too often the film seems to be solely about one animal.
But what an animal he is. And what a complicated challenge he poses, as we continually try to figure out how to share this increasingly shrinking world.