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NATURE: Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey

Airs Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 4 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: A tiger in Ranthambhore from "Broken Tail: A Tiger's Last Journey."

The tiger known as Broken Tail was born in Ranthambhore National Park in northern India, a vast, natural reserve for a wide variety of Indian wildlife, but especially famous for its Bengal tigers. Historically revered in Indian tradition, tigers in the area were once protected by maharajahs, and then by government sanctuaries and conservation projects.

Broken Tail as a young cub
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Above: Broken Tail as a young cub

Irish cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson and a tiger in Ranthambhore National Park.
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Above: Irish cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson and a tiger in Ranthambhore National Park.

But poachers have proven to be nearly unstoppable over the years, and tigers have struggled to survive, even with the protection of the park. At one point, there were as few as 26 tigers left in the reserve, and today, the fate of each and every tiger is important to the species as a whole.

Conservation efforts have been intensified in the face of the crisis, and the struggle continues. "Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey" is the story of the life and death of a tiger destined for greatness, who may still lead the way to a better future for those of his kind.

From the beginning, wildlife filmmaker Colin Stafford-Johnson could tell Broken Tail was special. Curious, exuberant, and charismatic, Broken Tail wasn’t afraid of anything. Stafford-Johnson and local guide, Salim Ali, spent over 600 days following and filming Broken Tail and his family.

Then, one day, Broken Tail simply disappeared. A year later, Johnson and Ali heard news that Broken Tail was killed by a train in Darra, 100 miles away from Ranthambhore. This discovery raised new questions. How did Broken Tail travel so far away from home? Why did he leave in the first place?

Stafford-Johnson and Ali set off on horseback, tracing Broken Tail’s last journey, looking for answers. Talking to poachers and interviewing eyewitnesses, the duo travel across India, learning some surprising facts from this remarkable tiger’s passage, and hoping they will help in the conservation of this endangered species.

NATURE is on Facebook, and you can follow @PBSNature on Twitter. "Broken Tail" is on Facebook.

Video

Preview: Nature: Broken Tail: A Tiger’s Last Journey

Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

Above: Broken Tail was the most charismatic tiger cub ever seen in Ranthambore, one of India’s best protected tiger reserves. But suddenly and without warning, Broken Tail abandoned his sanctuary and went on the run moving through farmland and scrub until he was killed by a train nearly 200 miles from its home. To track Broken Tail’s incredible journey, Irish cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson and his soundman Salim retrace the tiger’s path and piece together the cub’s last days — and through his story reveal the fate of the few surviving tigers in India.