Deccan Herald: Power to the Tiger

Power to the tiger

Jan, 1, 2012:

CONSERVATION

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 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 even over the lion due 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 ban of tourism in core areas brings a sigh of relief. Traffic needs to be regularised, not banned. Almost 95% of tourists are not interested to see forest owlet or wild dog, which are more than or as endangered as the tiger. If spotting becomes few and far between, the tourists would rather utilise their time and money elsewhere. 

The main reasons attributed to tiger’s decline are habitat destruction, poaching and man-animal conflict, largely due to the population explosion. While the former two reasons are right on the mark, the latter one needs more contemplation. 

During British India time two types of carnivores were distinguished by hunters. Cattle lifter, hefty and lethargic, almost solely depended upon domestic animals.  Game Killer, thin and agile, depended upon wild animals. The country was sparsely populated and jungles teemed with wildlife. Domestic animals were much less in numbers. Yet the damage done by carnivores to domestic animals was colossal. 

Almost all the naturalists today opine the reason for the carnivores to resort to killing of domestic animals as wild animals’ depletion. 

During British-India time, major part of India was governed by Raja-Maharajas and they paid tax 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, 4218 people were killed by tigers. 

He said that 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 Godaveri 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 award 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 prey 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 week. It eats the same kill for at least six days because it relishes the easy to tear high meat.  

The man-animal conflict leads to the death of many carnivores by 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 carnivores’ population.  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. The 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 nest at our home in Udaipur. In the first year, the birds built 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 has been proposed in India to raise 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 persevered 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 US and Europe, the zookeepers have to choose between euthanasia and contraception of even the endangered species, to maintain their numbers.

We, who don’t think twice about claiming forests and swamps, the homes of wild animals, to build our houses and cities, 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 constrains, devise practical solutions and improve measures like tourism, which are working for conservation.

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