This film tells the almost unbelievable story of an undiscovered population of fifty wild tigers that could be genetically unique. And it also reveals how their discovery may lead to their death.
In the remote Himalayan valley of Dibang in North East India, fifty tigers roam the mountainous slopes. For centuries, they’ve been kept safe from the world by the local Idu people whose entire ideology is centered around protecting the tiger.
But three years ago, a young Indian scientist called Sahil Nijhawan working in the area gained the trust of a local family and was told of their existence.
This programme follows Sahil for a year as he attempts to see one of these hidden tigers for himself. He’s spent the last few years setting video camera traps. He can recognise at least 12 individuals, including what he thinks is the biggest male tiger ever. But now he’s determined to know the tigers even better and film them using daylight cameras, night cameras and thermal cameras.
Their behaviour is different to other tigers.
Most Indian tigers live in the lowlands. But this population thrive on sheer vertical slopes. Their high rise lifestyle is reflected in the prey they hunt: Gongshan muntjac and several vanishingly rare goat-antelopes such as the Himalayan serow and the Mishmi takin. This world is unlike any other.
Sahil will travel high into the mountains to watch male tigers tracking prey that migrates with the snow. And he will also spy on female tigers with cubs as they hunt in the village. It’s here that Sahil will learn about the age-old harmony that exists between the Idu and the tiger: even if the big cats slaughter their highly valued ceremonial Mithun cattle, the Idu won’t retaliate. By meeting local shaman and taking part in their rituals, Sahil finds out why.
But he also learns of the dangers facing Dibang’s tigers.
The valley is being infiltrated by foreign invaders, drawn in search of a valuable medicinal plant. These outsiders, not related to the Idu, don’t revere the tiger and there’s no taboo to killing one.
And there is an even greater threat.
As the secret of Dibang’s tigers spreads beyond the valley, Sahil discovers that Indian tigers are valuable political pawns. The government’s National Tiger Conservation Authority want to claim these tigers as their own and declare the Idu land a tiger reserve under their protection. But their guns and guards have failed in so many Indian parks where many tiger populations have all but disappeared – slaughtered by poachers.
Is this the fate of the Dibang tigers? Or can Sahil convince the authorities to leave them alone, under the protection of the Idu, something that has worked so well for years for the hidden tigers of Dibang?
Written and directed by Mike Birkhead
and Beth Jones
Executive producers: Sabine Holzer,
1 x 50 min.,
4K, 5.1 + Stereo