Documenting The Lives Of Tigers

A new book offers an intimate look at the endangered cat.
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This fall, National Geographic award-winning photographer Steve Winter published a book with Sharon Guynup called Tigers Forever. The images and stories that comprise the book come from three different National Geographic stories Winter worked on, and more than 60 interviews conducted by Guynup. Guynup accompanied Winter in the field for a few locations, but also wrote based on details from her own experiences studying tigers, as well as daily rundowns from Winter via satellite phone.

Winter captured these intimate images of tigers using camera traps—a method he developed when he was photographing snow leopards years ago. He thought, “how do you do a story about an animal that you’re never going to see.” The answer was the camera trap, which he has been modifying over the years with National Geographic.

Before the tiger wanders into the infrared trigger’s domain, Winter spends time setting the scene with lights to mimic beams of sunlight—many of the animals he photographs are most active at dawn and dusk. Some tigers aren’t always pleased by the intrusion. One tiger, which Winter dubbed Smasher, grew very adept at crushing a camera trap and pulling out its cords until it stopped flashing and making sound.

Winter began his career as a photojournalist. When he began photographing wildlife, he realized that making nice animal portraits was doing a disservice. Portraits fail to show the animals’ full stories. Since then, he’s been trying to capture the full breadth of the threats, problems, and solutions that surround tigers and other wild animals. There are only 3,200 wild tigers out there now, and with the forces working against them (poaching, habitat encroachment, and more) the book could leave readers feeling as though the situation is quite dire.

But Winter and Guynup are optimistic. Ttigers are a productive species—females can give birth to 15 cubs over their lifetimes, and given a safe place to hunt and access to food, they have the opportunity to thrive.

“In many circumstances, conservation is like fighting a war,” Guynup says. “And it’s our job as journalists to tell the story.”

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