100 World Class South Africans: John Varty

2013-07-04 12:30

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Incredible conservationist

The co-owner of Londolozi, one of SA’s pioneering private game reserves, has been charged by elephants, swum across croc-infested rivers and survived a helicopter crash and a tiger mauling.

He’s made more than 40 wildlife films and won top documentary honours. Long before ‘ecotourism’ became part of our lexicon, John Varty believed it was possible to turn exhausted farmland back into productive wilderness.

He did ground-breaking work with big cats, habituating them back into a life in the wild while acclimatising them to close viewing by safari vehicles.

Varty was the first to promote a then-heretical notion: wildlife needs to pay for itself.

It’s the same principle he’s applying to his controversial attempts to foster a population of wild tigers in Africa.

In just over 100 years, we’ve lost 97 percent of the world’s wild tigers.

In Asia, they’re worth more dead than alive.

Varty’s thinking: protect them in places where tigers can earn a share of the wildlife tourism dollar.

In 2000 he bought two zoo-bred cubs from Canada. Today, Tiger Canyons in the Karoo has 15 tigers free-ranging and hunting game.

His has been a life of paparazzi and poachers and big cats of the animal and human kind. More significantly, John Varty is making a difference.

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