‘Tiger’s universal popularity may act as its major downfall’

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That India’s national animal is under a threat of extinction is a stale headline. The official figure of 1,411 has been grabbing the newspace for the past four years or so. But is too little being done to save the big wild cats or even much is not enough to save our precious pride?

Yes, the Tigers and their preservation are a serious matter of concern these days. Hope that hour is not very near when God forbid, the feline carnivore will walk away, only leaving behind its footprints err pug-marks. While several wildlife conservationists and forest officials are working their way out to combat the menace, certain globe-trotters, photographers and tourists are also penning books on the jungle beauty for crowds of curious readers’ benefit. And the genre is selling like hot-cakes as the copies are fast flying off the shelves.
One such hardbound tome, a slightly smaller than the size of a standard coffee table book is currently seizing the moment with its gripping content on the tigers and their related stories.
Titled The Safari, the book actually navigates a journey in search of the striped creatures-with-large-paws at the Ranthambore National Park.
Written in a diary format by Sundeep Bhutoria, the first-hand account recounts a swarm of historical, known and unknown anecdotes about the magnificent beasts and some harsh facts about their ways of life.
Recently, a thought-provoking discussion on The Safari was presented at the Tagore Centre of Kolkata’s ICCR, with an eminent panel befittingly formed by noted wildlife activist and founder-executive director of Wildlife Protection Society Of India — Belinda Wright — and well-known wildlife conservationist Nitin Desai.
“Spotting a tiger is like a spine-shivering yet thrilling experience. The chances of sighting one is slim no doubt. But if you come across even a single tiger, then consider yourself immensely lucky,” shares Bhutoria, sporting his trademark stark white kurta pyjama. “Back in the early 1990s, I remember having spent two nights in Jogi Mahal in Ranthambore, which is a major tourist attraction of the place. It is a forest department rest house where travellers rest after a long day’s jaunt. It was my good fortune that I could see a tiger and its club sitting under an ancient banyan tree, the second largest after the one standing tall in Kolkata. Both the mother tigress and her cub halted there for a stretch of 45 minutes, which is indeed a seldom sight,” he reminisces his first viewing of the mammal, enthusiastically.
In recent years, much has been scribbled and talked about the wiping off of the population of Panthera tigris in the Sariska Tiger Reserve, a popular Indian national park located in the Alwar district of Rajasthan, where the tiger-count dwindled mysteriously. Many tigers were found dead within a week’s time. “But before more whistles are being blown over other national parks like The Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand, a special tiger estimation cell should urgently be set-up for some thorough revealing statistics,” observes Desai.
Having been born in Churu, Rajasthan, which further explains his love for the desert state, Bhutoria mentions in his book that all the information given in print, technical or otherwise, has been sourced out from the locals, friends and a battery of prompt, alert forest officials as part of his core research work for this diary. He asserts that it’s a heart-felt journey of memoir from an enthusiastic wildlife buff’s pen-tip which he dedicates to the painstaking mission of save-the-tiger campaign.
“Everybody should do his/her bit to conserve wildlife. It is a natural asset, a gem of our surrounding environment,” holds Wright.
“But sadly enough, the tiger’s universal popularity may act as its major downfall. It is so powerful, spirited and majestic as a creature. From poachers to the Chinese community across the world, the tigers are in huge demand, and so are their dead physical parts for a varied range of purposes, be it medicinal, curative, commercial or reasons unknown,” she opines.
Widely recommended to the readers to carry and enjoy it as an interesting guide while tripping down on a safari, the book scores a high point with its eye-catching visual appeal via a series of glossy photographs, graciously shared by a host of contributors like Anuruddha Roy Chowdhury, Balendu Singh, Dharmendra Khandal, Pranad Patil, Rachna Singh, Sudhir Kasliwal and of course, the author’s better half, Manjari Maheshwari. The authentic pictures certainly add more life and enhancement to the book. “The tome consists of a brilliant collection of some front-facing pictures of tigers, as park cats are usually shy and they sit with their backs towards the visitors in the vehicles,” attests Desai.
Quite a travelogue sort on Ranthambore tiger reserve, the book contains a riveting compilation of sightings and detailing about the lives, actions, habits and the habitat of the wild cats present labelled as endangered species.
While numerous wildlife campaigners and conservationists have been hitherto crying hoarse over a spate of criminal offences such as poaching, illegal trading and trafficking in wildlife and demanding an immediate arrest of the perpetrators, Desai particularly focuses on private-public partnership to redress the crisis. Concentrating his area of function in states like M.P., Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, he stresses on the exigency of prevention of wildlife crimes. Belinda on the other hand has almost dedicated her whole life on the preservation of wildlife and the eco-system, primarily in the Sunderbans territory.
“Tigers are glamorous animals. They can be the face of the forest fauna, a poster quadruped I mean. They can be a leading conservationist on their own and help save preservation of other animals like the elephants, crocodiles, olive ridley turtles, et al. There should be an implementation of censor-techniques and investigative projects to monitor the movement of trespassers and check their infiltrations in the wildlife corridors,” comments the active, field conservationist. Also a set of assistants, informers and enforcement agencies is required to pass on the necessary dope to avoid poaching and the illicit trade.
“Sometimes, an army of agents serves as under-cover cops and pretend to be buyers themselves to decoy the poachers. A reward scheme was also issued to the secret agents who would get a grant of `15,000 for dispensing necessary clues, vital information and messages. This communication chain in fact conveys some important links to nab the hidden culprits in the poaching cases. The strategy really elicits a wonderful feedback in villages, situated nearby the national parks,” elucidates Desai.
Delving into the human-tiger conflict, Wright emphasises that one of the biggest challenges is to secure the future of these untamed predators, whose habitats are constantly being encroached upon by a civic locality. Hence local communities should be involved closely to build bridges of protection between the tigers and the mankind.
“We need to organise things, sensitise people and the state governments, develop benefit programmes for people living in the peripheral areas of tiger retreats and wildlife sanctuaries,” she concedes.
“Funding is another significant avenue to cash in on for wildlife preservations. Be it through corporate sponsorship or otherwise, an adoption scheme for the animals must be encouraged to improve their conditions of sustenance. Also a fixed percentage of the money collected at the entrance-gate of the national parks can be utilised in environmental initiatives. But the accumulated capital must be channelised properly on time so that crores don’t remain stuck in a pile of files, courtesy red-tapism. Tigers are resilient animals. It’s our moral duty to pay them their due respect,” enlightens Bhutoria.

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