Tiger Mauls Wildlife Filmmaker John Varty

Controversial Filmmakers Wild Shots

John Varty

A South African conservationist and filmmaker known for daring photography of wild animals is in intensive care after he was attacked by a tiger on his private game reserve.

John Varty, 61, is on a ventilator recovering from surgery for his injuries, including several puncture wounds and two broken ribs.  A spokesperson at his Tiger Canyons reserve described it as a "bad attack," but was hopeful he would be able to make a full recovery.

Varty was recently interviewed by ABC News about his controversial efforts to save endangered animals.  In a report on "Nightline," he is seen sitting on the ground next to his vehicle to photograph a sleeping lion just 15 to 20 feet away.

"He knows I'm here," Varty said, acknowledging the risk.  "If he jumped up and went at me, I wouldn't have time to get in the vehicle."

Varty's brother confirmed he was with a film crew at the time of the attack Wednesday but could not say what led to the mauling.

"We don't have the facts as yet. We have just been focused on his recovery," Dave Varty said.

A spokeswoman at the hospital in Bloemfontein where he is being treated told local media he has injuries all over his body, except his face.

Tigers are not native to Africa.  More than a decade ago, Varty established his Tiger Canyons reserve near Philippolis in South Africa's Free State to create a free-roaming habitat for endangered Asian tigers.  Other conservationists are critical of his experiment to get tigers to coexist with Africa's native lions.  Some have criticized his filming techniques and accuse him of manipulating animal behavior to get dramatic footage.

Varty was the "Tiger Man of Africa" in a 2011 National Geographic documentary about his life.  He has produced more than 30 wildlife documentaries, but is most famous for starring alongside Martin Sheen and Brooke Shields in the 1990's film "Running Wild," which he co-wrote and produced.  His autobiography is entitled "Nine Lives."

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