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Review: Saving the big cats in documentary ‘Tigerland’

Review: Saving the big cats in documentary ‘Tigerland’
A scene from the documentary "Tigerland." (Discovery)

The chance to view so many gorgeous, majestic tigers up close and personal is alone enough to recommend Ross Kauffman’s fine documentary “Tigerland.” That it’s also a stirring look at efforts to protect this dwindling big cat population makes it essential viewing for lovers of animals, nature and exotic adventure.

A century ago, 100,000 tigers roamed Asia’s wilds, whereas today, fewer than 4,000 of these creatures exist. Kauffman (2004’s Oscar-winning “Born into Brothels”) explores this vital issue through the eyes of conservationists Pavel Fomenko, who’s long worked to save the Siberian tiger in far eastern Russia, and India’s Amit Sankhala and Jai Bhati, nephew and pre-teen grandson, respectively, of late tiger advocate Kailash Sankhala.

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The film travels between Russia and India as it shows these inspiring activists raising awareness for the endangered tiger. Lifelong hunter Fomenko is seen risking life and limb — with near fatal consequences — in unnerving efforts to capture wandering tigers and redirect them to protected areas. (A rise in illegal poaching has worsened the creatures’ decline.)

The doc, which contains lovely animated bits as well as some unsettling images, uses strong archival footage to recount how “tiger addict” Sankhala’s work led to landmark changes in India’s treatment of the (to some) sacred animal with the support of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

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‘Tigerland’

Not rated

In English, Russian and Hindi with English subtitles

Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

Playing: Starts March 22, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; on Discovery, March 30

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