KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The search for a tiger in Knoxville after reported sightings earlier this week is not active anymore, but the topic is still a 2020 focus.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency isn’t currently searching for the tiger, first reported Wednesday night in East Knoxville near the Forks of the River Industrial Park. Without any new sightings or reports, wildlife officers are at the mercy of new information.

If there is a new sighting, officers are on duty and can respond accordingly.

The topic of “tiger” is not going away, especially considering, the pop culture phenomenon that became “Tiger King,” a Netflix documentary that featured the underground market of privately-owned tigers.

With this focus, in Knoxville and beyond, a local documentary team is looking to educate on a bigger issue when it comes to tigers.

“The Hidden Tiger”: a new tiger documentary

Rescue Doc Films started in 2013. The nonprofit was created by Josh Gildrie and Michael Samstag, “founded on the principle of putting film to work,” according to their website.

Josh Gildrie met WATE 6 On Your Side Reporter Madisen Keavy in Knoxville to talk about his first-hand experience shooting the documentary, The Hidden Tiger. At first, the idea was to highlight U.S. rescue organizations that were tailored to big cats, but it grew.

“When we started this I had no idea. I’m a really bad producer, but it makes good film,” said Gildrie.

He laughed when he told stories of their encounters with wild tigers because of how much of a one-in-a-million experience it was and really, how life changing it became.

Quoting Valmik Thapar, one of India’s most respected wildlife experts, an author, and conversationalist, Gildrie said: “As long as the tiger exists, there is a piece of history that’s with us. It’s going to be a very very sad world indeed when it’s gone.”

“We’re damn close. We’re damn close to that happening,” said Gildrie, speaking as himself.

The push for these documentary producers and filmmakers: To keep tigers from going extinct and encourage legislation that prevents tigers from being bought and sold as pets.

This investigative documentary shows the other side: black markets trading in tiger parts, criminal abusers using tigers for extraordinary profit, cubs being ripped from their mothers for a short life of tourist photo ops, slaughtered tigers piled by the dozens, and the horrific truth that the United States plays a role in the threatened extinction of the beloved tiger.
Trailer for The Hidden Tiger.

Gildrie highlighted the Big Cat Public Safety Act as one example of work, he hopes, the documentary will bring to light for more people.

What is The Big Cat Public Safety Act?

The bill changes the requirements in the trade of big cats (i.e., lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, or cougar or any hybrid of such species). Specifically, it changes the restrictions on the ownership and exhibition of big cats, including to restrict direct contact between the public and big cats.

The work on getting this legislation passed is slow in the last few months due to delays in Washington D.C. because of COVID-19, but Gildrie is hopeful documentaries and conversations about the safety of big cats will keep it on the front of legislators minds.

The team at Rescue Doc Films works with a familiar face for those that watched “Tiger King”: Carole Baskin.

Gildrie, wearing a Big Cat Rescue shirt during the interview, says the Baskins are not only close friends, in the documentary he produced, but also proponents of changing legislation to keep big cats safe.

Inspired to get involved?

Rescue Doc Films has also looked at promising solutions with the current conservation efforts being made in Asia and the push to enact responsible federal legislation in America, according to their website.

You can learn more here. Big Cat Rescue has ways to help (as recommended by Gildrie) here.