Power to the tiger

Last Updated 31 December 2012, 14:14 IST

Tourism is the main tool to make conservation sustainable. The lifting of the ban on tourism in core areas brings a sigh of relief. Traffic needs to be regularised, not banned. If we want to save the tiger, we must consider all actual constraints, devise practical solutions and improve measures like tourism, explain Arefa Tehsin and Raza H Tehsin.

The tiger-throne of Hyder Ali at erstwhile Seringapatam, his toy tiger devouring an English soldier in which he is said to have delighted, and his son Tipu Sultan, the tiger of Mysore, are long gone. And the Royal Bengal Tiger, the largest and most powerful of the cat tribe, claiming supremacy over even the lion owing to its beauty, size, strength and ferocity, is on the verge of extinction.

Tourism is the main tool to make conservation sustainable. The lifting of the ban on tourism in core areas brings a sigh of relief. Traffic needs to be regularised, not banned. Almost 95 per cent of tourists are not interested in seeing the forest owlet or the wild dog, which are more than or as endangered as the tiger.

If spotting becomes few and far between, tourists would rather utilise their time and money elsewhere.The main reasons attributed to the tiger’s decline are habitat destruction, poaching and man-animal conflict, largely due to population explosion. While the former two reasons are right on the mark, the latter needs morecontemplation.During the Raj era, two types of carnivores were distinguished by hunters.

The cattle-lifters — the hefty and lethargic ones — almost solely depended on domestic animals. The game killers — thin and agile ones — depended on wild animals. The country was sparsely populated and jungles teemed with wildlife. Domestic animals were fewer in numbers. Yet the damage inflicted by carnivores on domestic animals was colossal. Almost all naturalists today attribute carnivores killing domestic animals to the depletion of wild animals.

Raj era conflicts

During the British-India period, a major part of the country was ruled by Rajas and Maharajas who paid taxes to the Empire. ‘The Royal Tiger of Bengal – His Life & Death’ by J Fayrer published in 1875 mentions that Captain B Rogers of the Indian army, who studied the habits of Indian wildlife, wrote a paper on the destruction caused by them. In a period of six years ending in 1866, in lower Bengal alone, 4,218 people were killed by tigers.

Fayrer said tigers are man-eaters by nature and instinct, not by education; “men, therefore, are liable to be eaten where tigers exist.” One gentleman, writing from Nayadunka in 1869 said, “Cattle killed in my district are numberless.” Quoting another government report, Fayrer wrote, “A single tigress caused the desertion of 13 villages and 250 sq miles were thrown out of cultivation.”

In 1868, the Magistrate of Godavari reported, “That part of country was over-run with tigers, every village having suffered from the ravages of man-eaters.” There is another instance in 1969 of a tigress which killed 127 people and stopped a public road for many weeks.

Captain Roger stated, “The loss of property, which the ravages of carnivora entailed, amounted to 10 million pounds annually.” A large share was attributed to tigers. The England parliament proposed destroying the carnivores as much as possible. Locals were given awards for producing the tail of the killed animal for incentive.

A system of rewards long existed and the sum paid for carnivores formed a large entry in the yearly accounts. Gradually, after Independence, as land was reclaimed from forests and swamps, and jungles cleared, the population of tigers thinned.

Domestic animals are natural preys of these carnivores; their senses are not as acute as those of wild animals. If a tiger or panther secures a buffalo or bullock, it has sufficient food for one-and-a-half weeks. It eats the same kill for at least six days because it relishes the easy-to-tear high meat.

Man-animal conflict has often meant the death of many carnivores at the hands of villagers who poison their kill. In India, there are millions of non-productive bullocks, buffaloes and other domestic animals.

They graze on the fringes of the jungles unattended. As soon as the grass sprouts, they browse on it, pulling it from the roots, and their hoofs harden the soil. This reduces the regenerative power of grasses. These animals should be purchased by the central/state governments and after inoculation be released in sanctuaries, national parks and reserves. In the enclosed jungles there is no scarcity of fodder and they wouldn’t cause environmental imbalance.

Cattle, goats, sheep, camels, donkeys, ponies are the natural food of carnivores. They’ve not been made by Nature to serve humans alone. The easy prey would increase the population of carnivores. Food supply would be easy and sufficient, thereby increasing the survival rate of their cubs. Tigers generally move to another place after sometime as the prey becomes wary.

Their territory will reduce because of sufficient food. A drop in their wanderings will minimise the clashes between the same species as well as the man-animal conflict.A pair of little brown doves built a nest at our home in Udaipur. In the first year, the birds built nests once. When we started to place water and grains, they began to build nests thrice a year. The easy availability of food starkly increases the productivity.

Tiger farming

Tiger farming has been proposed in India to increase their declining numbers, but the loose implementation of laws can result in an increased illegal trading of tiger products. The better bet is to make the poaching laws equivalent to Section 302 of Indian Penal Code. Once a tiger dies in a zoo or wild, it can be preserved rather than burnt.

It is a colossal national waste. The skin can be auctioned and the money utilised to further the cause of tiger conservation. Stuffed specimens/skeletons can be kept in schools, labs and colleges with their respective histories displayed. This will generate more awareness for the present generation and provide a study pool for the future ones.

Once the required numbers are achieved, and proper laws enforced, hunting licences can be auctioned at high prices for culling the extra animals. The money generated must be used to strengthen the protection and make conservation self-sustainable.

It has been successfully carried out in countries across the world. In the US and Europe, the zookeepers have to choose between euthanasia and contraception of even the endangered species, to maintain their numbers.We don’t think twice about claiming forests and swamps, the homes of wild animals, to build our houses and cities, but get infuriated when such protection measures are proposed.

Conservation should not be limited to making the right moral, politically correct vibes. If we want to save the tiger, we must consider all actual constraints, devise practical solutions and improve measures like tourism, which help conservation.

(Published 31 December 2012, 14:14 IST)

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