Podcast: Steve Winter – The Real Tiger King


On this week’s episode of the B&H Photography Podcast, we welcome National Geographic photographer Steve Winter back to the program. Winter joined us, in 2016, to discuss his wildlife photography, specifically his work photographing cougars in the hills of Los Angeles, California, and today we will be discussing tigers.

Over the past several years, Winter has been working on stories about tigers, initially in Sumatra, Thailand, and India, but most recently in the United States, where there are more tigers in captivity than exist in their increasingly shrinking natural habitats in Asia. The majority of these tigers are pets, are in sanctuaries, or are used as part of small private zoos and tourist attractions. His most recent story for NatGeo, which was honored with a 2020 World Press Photo award, explores this phenomenon—the good, the bad, and very ugly of it.

We speak with Winter about the production and research for this series, about photographing the animals, as well as the owners, handlers, and tourists, and the dangers of each. We discuss how he utilized his news and documentary skills, in addition to his wildlife photography experience, and about the gear decisions he made to help bring this story to life. We also dig into the practice of breeding, crossbreeding, and maintaining predator cats for profit and the issues of illegal trafficking, tiger farms, and of legitimate sanctuaries. Finally, we focus on the positive changes that have come from Winter’s many stories on the world’s big cats.

Guest: Steve Winter

Photograph © Steve Winter

Tigers cool off in a pool at The Wild Animal Sanctuary, in Keenesburg, Colorado, USA. The sanctuary rescues animals and cares for them in large open habitats, giving them veterinary attention and proper nutrition. Visitors view them from afar, with no interaction. July, 2019. © Steve Winter for National Geographic
Gregg Woody, owner of Woody’s Menagerie, and his wife display an eight-week-old cub named Sophie at the Ogle County Fair in Illinois, USA. August, 2018. © Steve Winter for National Geographic
Staff at Myrtle Beach Safari entertainment facility in South Carolina, USA, control tigers during a photo session. April, 2019. © Steve Winter for National Geographic
Gir, a lion-tiger hybrid, now at the Tiger Haven Sanctuary in Kingston, Tennessee, USA, was rescued from an exotic animal park after he grew too large for public handling and has serious health issues caused by inbreeding and malnutrition. June, 2019. © Steve Winter for National Geographic
Lori Ensign-Scroggins feeds chicken tidbits to Langley, a 125-kilogram tiliger (two-thirds tiger, one-third lion) that she adopted when he grew too big for petting, in her kitchen in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA. March, 2019. © Steve Winter for National Geographic
Owner Pat Craig and his dog Little Bit make the rounds of The Wild Animal Refuge, in Colorado, USA. The accredited carnivore sanctuary includes a 4,000 hectare refuge for rescued animals that is not accessible to the public. July, 2019. © Steve Winter for National Geographic
© Steve Winter for National Geographic, 2018
USFW officer James Markley displays one of five tiger skulls he dug up at GW Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. © Steve Winter for National Geographic, 2019
© Steve Winter for National Geographic, 2019
A toy stuffed-animal tiger placed in an abandoned car at Disaster City in College Station Texas, which is a part of Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service and used for training first responders. © Steve Winter for National Geographic, 2019

Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: John Harris
Senior Producer: Jason Tables
Executive Producer: Lawrence Neves