John Varty: I felt like a rag doll

2012-04-05 09:30
Christal-Lize Thomas
Bloemfontein – Filmmaker and conservation legend John Varty has told of his experience after being mauled by one of his tigers on his tiger farm, Tiger Canyons, outside Philippolis.

"I felt like a rag doll being torn open when Corbett tried to pull me through the fenced gate in the tiger camp. I realised these were my last moments on earth."

Varty, 61, described in detail how he was attacked by Corbett, his tiger, last Wednesday.

'Watching his every move'

In a newsletter on his website, Varty told how he and a film team from Aquavision Productions had made preparations to record footage of the female tiger Julie in the camp next to Corbett and his sister Panna.

Varty, who's recuperating in the Mediclinic in Bloemfontein, told how he battled to lock the gate after they had finished.

He saw Panna on a rock about 120m away while Corbett was lying in the grass about 15m away, watching his every move. "I turned around to walk to the vehicle when Corbett stormed the camp's wire gate."

The tiger grabbed Varty with his huge claws through the gate's horizontal barbed wire and pinned him against the gate, trying to pull him into the camp.

"The only thing going through my thoughts at the time was to use the stick or the hand pistol that I had on me at the time, but Corbett was too fast and too strong."

Pretending to be dead

Julie Brown from Aquavision Productions rushed to help Varty. "She grabbed my legs and it was like a tug of war between her and Corbett.

"I kept thinking I had to protect my neck and head."

"For a moment I thought of pretending to be dead."

Other members of the film team also came to help. A cameraman managed to hit Corbett on the head with a steel pipe. "For people who had never worked with tigers before, the film team performed miracles and saved my life."

The drive on wet, uneven terrain along a dirt road to Philippolis took 30 minutes and was a painful experience, said Varty.

Dr André Loubser, a trauma surgeon at Mediclinic Bloemfontein, was very satisfied with Varty's condition. "There is no infection."

Loubser said Varty would remain in the high care unit for now. On Sunday a decision will be taken on whether he could be moved to a general ward.

Varty's ex-wife and TV personality Gillian van Houten told reporters last week that they won't get rid of the tiger Corbett, and that "the attack was just about one male challenging another male".


  • Zimbobwe - 2012-04-05 10:01

    You can't change nature. Enclosing them doesn't make them less of a wild animal who will attack when need be.

  • Rosa - 2012-04-05 10:35

    Mr John Varty, I am so happy you are going to be fine. I enjoy ur documentry's on the tigers. You have taught us so much, a hero in our eyes. All the best, and pls carry on with ur good work, regards from us at Jugomaro Predator Park. We understand ur passion!

  • jhdacruz - 2012-04-05 10:37

    The challenge now is to get the confidence back. It seldom if ever comes back completely. The animal was doing what comes absolutely naturally but the human caretaker still feels fundamentally betrayed. Mr Varty will never be the same. The love affair is now essentially over.

  • Lynne - 2012-04-05 10:38

    A tiger farm seems a long shot from the African magic of Londolozi, John, but I wish you a speedy recovery!

  • Bless Boswell - 2012-04-05 10:48

    Rickesh: I think he knows that. John Varty's commitment to wildlife conservation is legendary.

  • darren.putter - 2012-04-05 11:19

    Phumlani Mchunu,was the brave camera man wielding the metal pipe.well done Phum!!

  • inusvwyk - 2012-04-05 11:23

  • umhlangacane - 2012-04-05 11:25

    Speedy Recovery John. Someone's got to help endangered animals like tigers where they are threatened in their natural habitat. Keep up the great work.

  • cliff.slabbert - 2012-04-05 11:40

    Tigers belong in Asia and in the wild reserves there,not here in Africa. I enjoy and find very interesting what John does with our own cats but tigers in the Free State ???????? I wish John a speedy recovery. When he is well I hope he re-thinks this Tiger thing.

      Fran - 2012-04-05 12:59

      Varty has offered to go help reintroduce the Tigers in many parts of Asia.. and they told him "NO we don't want your help" He has been left with no choice but to do what is right and try and help the survival of these amazing creatures in whatever way he can.... their DNA can then be used around the world and their magnificent presence can still be found in years to come. The world is changing, perhaps we need to change our perspective of things to????

      cliff.slabbert - 2012-04-06 00:16

      My comment was not allowed because it was too honest!!!

  • Angela - 2012-04-05 11:51

    That camera crew need some kind of civil award - well well done guys, not only for fighting off the attack but for getting Varty to medical care as quickly as you could. I'm honoured to share the earth with people like you.

  • vuyo.zuccherro.gqwaru - 2012-04-05 12:56

    Please visit

  • Lyndatjie - 2012-04-05 14:56

    You are still my hero when it comes to conservation... respect!

  • aomtshiselwa - 2012-04-05 15:55

    Varty's ex-wife and TV personality Gillian van Houten told reporters last week that they won't get rid of the tiger Corbett, and that "the attack was just about one Male(CORBETT the TIGER challenging another Male(JOHN VARTY an ex HUSBAND)

      goughdd - 2012-04-09 10:32

      Actually it is interesting that this will happen with animals, even domestic ones. Varty was in charge and Corbett decided to do what he would in the wild - get rid of the alpha male.

  • George - 2012-04-05 19:14

    John, big cats are dangerous, do be careful. They used to have us for dinner in the old days..

  • teresa.carew - 2012-04-07 02:57

    so happy to hear that you will be fine. We all appreciate your enormous conservation efforts - I just read "Nine Lives" and thoroughly enjoyed it!

  • Natalie - 2012-04-07 11:11

    John, I was with you and Dave many years ago at Londolozi and you got me hooked on the bush even more than I already was. I wish you better and huge respect to the way you have made animals and conservation so meaningful to so many people.

  • andre.duvenage1 - 2012-04-16 15:06

    Why should Corbett pay with his life for following his natural instincts? Tigers are predators and NOT house cats. Here they say "Varty's ex-wife and TV personality Gillian van Houten told reporters last week that they won't get rid of the tiger Corbett, and that "the attack was just about one male challenging another male", BUT John said Corbett would be put down "humanely" and cut into pieces to be studied by scientists if there is any truth in Eastern medicines surrounding tigers, and that he would not "die in vain". Realy...should we not be put down in a "humane" way if we kill a fly or spider that irritates us? Please people....HELP US SAVE CORBETT.... I'm sure he could be adopted by another breeding program where people DONT WALK IN THEIR ENCLOSURES! HELP SAVE CORBETT PLZ......

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