John Varty is founder of the project working with the tigers Ron and Julie on a 90,000-acre reserve in central South Africa. He is conducting a controversial conservation experiment: training two captive-born Bengal tigers to hunt — in essence, to be "wild" — before releasing them to fend for themselves in a free-range area of the sanctuary.
A lifelong naturalist and veteran wildlife filmmaker, he is the founder of Londolozi Productions, which is known for producing unique behavioral and predation sequences featuring Africa's big cats.
Varty has been involved in nature preservation since he was a teen. When his father died, he and his brother Dave persuaded their mother to turn the family property from a hunting farm into an eco-tourism destination. The brothers named it Londolozi, a Zulu word meaning "the protector of all living things." They set out to restore the animal populations that had dwindled by creating a model for sustainable care of the land. South African President Nelson Mandela described Londolozi Game Reserve as "one of our most progressive parks," adding that "Londolozi represents a model of the dream I cherish for the future of nature preservation in our country."
When leopards began to appear at Londolozi, Varty became involved in filmmaking, spending five years tracking and documenting a leopard for his film, Silent Hunter. A subsequent Varty film, Swift and Silent, focused on three great spotted predators: the jaguar, leopard and cheetah.
An abandoned lion cub marked the beginning of a new phase in Varty's career. He and his partner, Gillian van Houten, rehabilitated the cub as Varty filmed its progress. At 18 months old, having learned hunting skills, she was released. Next, Varty and van Houten adopted two 8-week-old leopard cubs. Eventually these were relocated for complete rehabilitation into the wild. Again, John documented the story on film. Londolozi Productions has produced 50-plus hours of programming.
His latest film project — documenting the Bengal tiger cubs, Ron and Julie — has occupied him since 1999.