Date with Tiger: ================
Animals rank high in Bijal Vachharajani's scheme of things whether as Special Projects Co-ordinator at PETA India or at her stint at Sanctuary Asia. She shares her experiences at the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve with ROUGE .
I was only vaguely aware of my surroundings—tourists were whispering urgently, bickering amiably about who gets the better photograph. But for me, time had stopped. After all, there she was, resplendent in her burnished gold and black striped coat, languidly lapping water from a gushing stream. Her cub, an adolescent tiger, ran around her, amused by the uncalled attention from the excited gawkers. It was my first glimpse of the magnificent Panthera Tigris.
A tip from another canter (that this area was frequented by a tigress with her cubs) had sent our vehicle heading towards this particular stream. The driver shut off the canter's engine, leaving behind a tense silence. We squinted and strained our eyes, trying to see something through the green and yellow foliage in front of us. Whether it was the rickety boat ride in Periyar Tiger Reserve, where all we spotted was a lone drongo bird, or the unsuccessful quest at Sariska Tiger Reserve, my misadventures with spotting a tiger had left me with the morose feeling that the tigers were eluding me. Immensely adaptable animals, tigers can be found in a wide range of habitats from the arid Ranthambhore to the marshy Sunderbans and the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. Solitary in nature, tigers are the largest of the cat family and are very territorial. Tigresses, like the one we were waiting to catch sight of, are extremely protective of their cubs.
Suddenly, the driver pointed out, exclaiming, "There she is, I can see her ear!" False alarm. Ready to call it a day, the driver restarted the canter. That was when the tigress suddenly moved from her camouflaged resting place. My date with the tiger was complete.
Most people ask — what's the big deal about a tiger? As I learnt from Bittu Sahgal, the Editor of Sanctuary Asia, the tiger is a keystone species, the symbol of a thriving forest. He recites this mantra, "To save the tiger, you have to save its home — the forest." And considering the fact that more than 300 rivers originate from the 28 tiger reserves of India, if you save the forest, you end up saving our water resources. The larger implication? That our subsistence on planet Earth is inextricably connected to the tiger's survival. The tiger is caught in the throes of a rollercoaster ride to survive. Studies show that tigers only occupy a measly seven per cent of their historic range today, that's 40 per cent less than a decade ago. Mindless destruction of forests has put India's wildlife in peril. Worse, poaching for trophies and their body parts, for use in traditional Chinese medicine, only pushed the numbers further down. In 2004, the nation was shocked with news that poachers had wiped out Sariska's tigers like an epidemic. Suddenly, alarming reports were making headlines in newspapers and magazines. Tiger numbers were dwindling across India and conservationists pegged the number to a meagre 1, 500 to 2, 000. Surely an abysmal report card for our national animal.
I remember chatting with Jaimini Pathak, the writer and director of the heartwarming children's play Once Upon A Tigerwhich delved on the topic of tiger conservation. When I asked him what ails the tiger in India, Jaimini responded simply, "Human greed." I rest my case!
Conservationists across India are fighting the battle. We too can help, by sensitively treading upon the Earth's resources. Save water, paper, and electricity. Invest in corporates who work towards sustainable development. I hope the Earth doesn't have to witness a time when the tiger draws dangerously close to getting tagged with the phrase "as dead as a dodo".