We remember some titbits of news items or a trivia long after we read it somewhere. One such information I read when I first started reading about wildlife is, the disappearance of Asiatic Cheetah from India. The Asiatic species is a distinct species separated from the African ones thousands of years ago. They were present in many parts of Asia and widespread in India from Punjab to Karnataka. Indian Maharajas and our colonial masters hunted them to extinction, and the last three of them were killed by Maharajah Pratap Singh Deo in 1948. Imagine for a minute, you are on a pilgrimage to a temple in Udupi and taking a small detour to see Cheetahs in Dharwad. This can be only a fantasy now. You need to go the wilderness in Iran, the last surviving habitat of Asiatic Cheetah to see one.
Picture Courtesy: By Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47589350
The tigers would have joined that list but to our good fortunes, some serious conservation efforts we now an increased Tiger population thanks to the efforts of wildlife conservationists and successive governments who listened to them.
When we first started watching wildlife videos (before the advent of National Geographic and other channels) in VHS tapes, the tigers were the chief attraction for us. There is something about them which mesmerizes us. Their eyes, the feline grace, their stealth movement. The Lion is the King of the jungle, Cheetah is the fastest animal on earth, but Tiger is the most beautiful of them by a long margin.
JK and I made few trips in the late eighties and early nineties to Bandipur, the Tiger Sanctuary in Karnataka to see them in the wild. Even after trekking for days with an expert guide we could not see one. We once saw an half eaten bison of medium size the guide told us it was a tiger kill. We waited for hours for the tiger to return, it never did. We were just not lucky. Till a few years back, if you wanted to see tigers with reasonable chance for success, you should either go to Kanha or Ranthambore sanctuaries.
The tiger population was in a precarious position in the early seventies. One of the most admired wildlife conservationist in India, Bill Arjan Singh persuaded Mrs. Indira Gandhi to do something about this and the Project Tiger was born in 1973. I think their population was down to about few hundreds when the project was kicked off. Mr. Arjan Singh’s was the man who made Dudhwa National Park. He introduced Leopards and Tigers into the wild. His book, Tara, a Tigress is a great read. Of course as with every conservation effort there are theories for and against. While some believe that a tiger in captivity can never succeed in the wild, some argue that their inborn killing instinct will come into play and they will adapt.
Mrs. Gandhi also put a stop to illegal quarrying in the Himalayas. But for her timely action, we would have had the worse ecological disaster of the century.
The latest census of Tiger shows the number of tiger in India is about 3159. A total of 2,461 which were more than a year old were photographed. India is home to 80% of world’s tiger population and probably the only country where you can see both the lion and the tiger the two most magnificent cats. We now have fifty tiger sanctuaries spread across 18 states in India.
It is not to say that there are no dangers in India for wildlife to thrive. Poaching still remains a major concern. About 30% of all tiger deaths is due to poaching. The shrinking habitat for wild animals is a challenge. How can you displace tribal population who have been living at the edge of forests for hundreds of years because you need more space for tigers. The human – animal conflict is the same for any country whether it’s in the jungles of Amazon, or in Africa or the shola forest of western Ghats.
Kripa my friend from Kotagiri sent these photos, videos and a news item. The photos and videos were of a tiger roaming in a tea estate near Kotagiri near Ooty. I called him to check if this was true. Though it is a common sight in India to see leopards in the villages it is rare that tiger would venture outside the forests. I told him spotting tigers in the vicinity of Bandipur (the tiger sanctuary) and here they are far away from their protected habitat. He said, “Please come now. You can definitely spot the tiger.”
Here are the couple videos Kripa sent.
When I shared the news in the family group, Mohan said now we see lot of similar stories on wildlife channels. A recent story of Polar Bear being spotted in Norilsk, Siberian town caught us by surprise. The city lies five hundred kilometers away from Arctic circle. The thinning of polar ice and the loss of food is making the bears to move away. A really sad story. Now we have one more dimension to think about apart from loss of habitat and poaching, the global warming. Mr. Trump can be in eternal denial on global warming. But it is a fact and this will cause immense harm to polar bears, penguins and other animals.
We always moan about nothing will succeed in India in our efforts to make things happen. But the tiger story proves that we can get things correct. India was one of the first countries to totally ban hunting. You still have pro and against fox hunting happening in UK every year. India has more problems in providing space to animals. We find it difficult to provide space to our human population which thankfully still the second highest in the world.
But as Douglas Chadwick narrates in his book, ‘The Fate of the Elephant’ India provides the last hope for the conserving elephants in the long term, we do get things right in India. The increase in population of tigers and elephants is a case in point.
When we were kids, out ultimate fantasy fight was between a tiger and a lion (சிங்கம் புலி சண்டை), thanks to ill informed movies we watched. It was only much later we understood that Lions and Tigers don’t share an habitat. But as I mentioned, India has a reasonable population of Lions and eighty percent of all tiger population. It’s not just us, even our future generations can see the magnificent Bengal Tiger in the wild. Let us thank the conservationists, the ensuthisats and Mrs. Gandhi for that.