“Shooting” a STAR
The words of the guide still linger on “Sir jee iye India se alaag hain, kaun kaun iha aaya hain aapko paata hain ? Clinton, Elizabeth, Rajiv Gandhi!!” (Sir, this is different from rest of India. Do you know who all have been here? ) This was during our trip to Ranthambore 3 years ago when the guide was proudly declaring the glorious past of Ranthambore and its VIP visitors. Well today as we sit to write about Ranthambore it is not about its glory of being one of the first 9 parks brought under Project Tiger in 1973 or about how it cremated Machli (world’s longest living tigress and an icon of Ranthambore and India’s tiger conservation success) with National honours, it is about how Ranthambore killed its tiger !!!!
Yes, you have read it right . 700 villagers with slogans and sticks were baying for the blood of a tiger that had strayed into their territory. The forest department reached the spot and probably tried their best to calm them down. Their repeated requests to evacuate the spot fell on deaf ears as adamant villagers refused to leave the place. Left with no option , the tiger was tranquilized . Had the villagers left , tiger could have made its way back into the forests. But instead, it was tranquilized and when the animal was taken away in a van , angry villagers threw stones, blocked the path of the vehicle demanding compensation for their tomatoes!!!! Inside the van lay the motionless body of T28 aka Sitara or Star Male of “India se alaag” forest Ranthambore!!! The tiger ,traumatized and stressed never woke up and the list of deceased tigers got longer.
Photo Credit: From Hindusthan Times article
It was shocking to say the least to know such contradictory behaviour of Ranthambore- on one hand it paid tributes to Machli who brought revenues in crores for the park and those associated with it and on the other hand it did not let T28 live. T28 in his prime has been the dominant male of Ranthambore who successfully mated with T19 or Krishna (Machli’s daughter from her 4th litter) and produced 2 litters that includes the current generation of tigers in the park like Arrowhead , Packman . T28 had a previous history of tranquilization when he got injured in a territorial fight with his own son Packman two years back. That was a success but this time he did not recover. The hatred , the noise were enough to “shoot” Star to death. Who is responsible for his death? Was protecting “tomato” more important (Government provides compensation in these situations) than protecting the tiger? These questions will linger on and today we feel like asking the proud guide -” Is this what you meant when you said India se alaag? ”
Lalgarh- killing goes on
As T28’s death news flashed across social media, another news made its way to the front pages of the leading dailies in WestBengal. News of a Tiger sighting at Lalgarh forest in the state -a forest where no tiger has been sighted for decades!!! Where did the tiger come from? Experts were not sure -may be Simlipal or Palamou but the moment the news flashed everything changed within a matter of days. People were excited to see a tiger in unknown territory without probably realizing what lay in store for this animal given such close proximity to human settlements.
Forest department swung into action and tried to capture the tiger as images went live on social media and print media with speculations galore accompanying the same. Today after 1.5 months, the tiger’s body lies on the forest floor-motionless. Tiger has been killed -multiple body injuries have been found all over its body. Lalgarh area in WestBengal has sizeable tribal population and they have their rituals or “shikar” (hunting) utsav /festival. Did they kill the tiger? How did tribals (who haven’t been accustomed to tigers in this part) track and kill a tiger when Forest Department repeatedly failed to do so for more than 40 days or so?? The mystery deepens when no satisfactory answer is available from anyone holding positions of responsibility!!!! Officials used traps with live baits , they used drones to track the tiger with the hope of tranqulizing it. But they failed .
Photo Credit: Photo adapted from Facebook
Did the Forest Department have the expertise to track a tiger within the forests ? Probably no. Why didn’t they seek help from other forest department in India who possess experience of handling such incidents of tiger straying near human localities?
No one knows why …but everyone knows that a tiger has been brutally killed right under the nose of the forest department. Whom should we blame? Forest department for their callousness and failure to perform their basic duty or administration in general who failed to prevent people from venturing into the forest and for not providing the support forest department was seeking? Yes, the tiger had altered the lifestyle of people in the area and everyone was scared of the animal and rightly so. But in a country which is the last hope for wild tigers in the world (with 70% population ) , shouldn’t we be more efficient in handling such incidents? Is this how we think we can protect the national animal? Only time will let us know the answers to some of those questions .
Future of Conservation in India-Rising Tiger Deaths
Those reading the blog might be thinking -well these are only 2 incidents . But truth is hundreds and thousands of wildlife perish every year including tigers, leopards, elephants , rhinos and what not !!! These two glaring incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.
115 tigers died in India in 2017, according to official data. For the second year in a row the number of big cat deaths has crossed the 100-mark . Various reasons for the death of India’s national animal include electrocution, poaching, poisoning, infighting, natural deaths, human-tiger conflict ,rail/road accidents.Ninety-eight tiger bodies were recovered in 2017 while 17 were presumed dead on the basis of body parts seized, according to official data.In 2016, the tiger mortality figure was 122, which was over 50% more than that in 2015 when the total tiger deaths were 80.
Of the 115 tiger deaths in 2017, the highest number was reported from Madhya Pradesh (28), followed by Maharashtra (21) and Assam (16), accounting for about 55% of the total number of deaths.
The alarming part of the data is that it has come to light that 54 tiger deaths, or about 47% of the total deaths, were recorded outside tiger reserves. Though this is not surprising as about 40% of India’s tiger population is believed to be living in forests outside tiger reserves, it clearly shows the unfavorable condition of tigers outside the reserves. With reserves probably becoming overpopulated and tigers moving out (may be in search of territory or mate) , they are bound to come in contact with ever rising human settlements and the fate of such tiger hangs in balance.
The two instances highlighted above are classic examples of the human-animal conflict. In a country of 130 crore, it is not easy to talk and practice conservation but truth is if we choose to “kill” under the pretence of hunting festivals, superficial “development” in form of highways through forests, linking rivers , diverting forest lands to corporate houses then we have decided to “kill” ourselves!!! It will only be a matter of time when wildlife would really “vanish” from this country and planet.
The image below is from 1961 visit of Queen Elizabeth when a tiger was shot as it was customary to kill a tiger in honour of Her Majesty. That was 1961 (photo from The Telegraph edition dated 2nd April ,2018) but it is a mirror image of the deaths in Ranthambore and Lalgarh (only reasons vary or do they?)
As noted conservationist Prerna Singh Bindra concludes in her book “The Vanishing”–
“The choice is ours to make: Will we stand by silent and watch the slaughter? Watch the forests fall? Watch as wild creatures fall off the map of India? Do we want an India that is silenced of the roar of the tiger? Do we want to live in a country where forests are baren, its land infertile ? Or will we stand up and fight? “
-Suddhasattwa Das and Niladri Kundu