When my journey in the wilderness commenced in 1989, I had no clue what lay ahead of me. Initially, the idea was to see the Tiger in the wild. Gradually I wanted to see various aspects of the Tiger behaviour, like patrolling, spraying, claw marking, flehmen, mating, a mother with cubs etc. But not once in my wildest of imaginations did the thought cross of Death of a Tiger.
It needs no mention that the law of nature is supreme, and the only constant is change. But the irony is how we forget this aspect and start to love what we see in nature. And when love gets converted to attachment disappointment reveals it’s ugly head. So is the case with Death of a Tiger.
I have had the personal experience of getting attached to many Tigers that I was seeing constantly. And whenever we lost that Tiger it came as a big jolt. It is tough to forget such losses.
The first death of a Tiger
This happened when initially a legendary Tigress of Bandhavgarh disappeared and some days later her body parts were found. Sita was the Tigress in question, this incident shook me inside out. Two reasons, one it was not a natural death, and secondly it was the first time I heard of the Tigress I loved seeing with her cubs in 1995-1997 had disappeared. How will I ever forget this Tigress licking her cubs clean in the bushes near Shesh Shaiya, and I was watching her do this with Kuttappan the Head Mahout of Bandhavgarh on his Elephant.
This was an ominous sign since I have lost some more of my favourite Tigers in Bandhavgarh, namely, Charger, Mohini, Challenger, B1, B2, Bhamera, Kankatti, Jhurjhura female and last one is Junior Kankatti.
Similarly in other parks too I lost some Tigers whom I was seeing often.
What are the causes for Death of a Tiger
- Natural causes due to old age; It is rare that one finds a body of a dead Tiger who has died of natural cause due to old age.
- Accidentally poached; at times the local villagers in order to keep the herbivores like spotted deers, and wild boars from destroying their crop would put in an electric fence. Instead of the prey at times, a Tiger walks into such an area and gets electrocuted. This has been considerably reduced after a brief spur in such incidents in a particular state of Maharashtra.
- A territorial fight; between two grown-up males which can give fatal injury to either, thus leading to the death of a Tiger. Some cases like this have been covered by me in one of my previous blogs on Death of Bheema and Rajaram (Kingfisher ) Tiger in Kanha.
- One Tiger killing cubs of another male Tiger; This happens often in parks like Kanha where the density of male Tigers is fairly high. The Tigers of Kanha are undoubtedly the largest Tigers in India. Though the size has nothing got to do with the killing, but there could be because big size suggests pure dominance, and they settle for nothing less but submission of the other Tigers or mauling them to death.
- Organized poaching; Considerably reduced now. But there is a myth amongst the locals to perform some rituals with some body parts of a Tiger which apparently brings prosperity to the person doing it. These cases are limited to a particular tribe, in a certain area, so this also is under close check if not completely eliminated.
- Poisoning; Either a cattle stray into the park and is killed by the Tiger. Or, the Tiger strays into the buffer and kills a cattle. Some locals to get even, poison the cattle and when the Tiger returns to eat, he dies.
Whatever reason, the Death of a Tiger is never a happy ending. However one does take solace from the fact that with the advent of technology, and better Tiger monitoring the numbers have reduced. Not wholly, but substantially.
It is easy for anyone to point fingers at the forest department and list the lacunas in the system. But one cannot overlook the challenges these foresters face in their daily work. India is a complex country and no solution is easy here. But it is easy to fire suggestions, solutions on social media. All it takes now is say anything in the guise of Freedom of Speech. Having said this, there is tremendous scope of improvement in the way we treat our Tigers.
But I will continue to respect the foresters doing their duties. As, had it not been for them today, these Tigers and the wonderful protected area would not be there to be seen by the world.
Emotions involved in case of a Tiger death also need a brief mention here. Losing a Tiger is like losing a family member for people who see them regularly. It is very tough to go on those roads again where you once saw your favourite Tiger who is unfortunately now no more. I know of a few people who have cried when their Tigers die. They all know that it is practically impossible for all Tigers to lead a natural life and die in prime old age. If that happens the parks will burst at their seams.
Such is the complex world of Tigers, that they get very few natural deaths in their lifetime. Guess it is the price one pays for being a Tiger.
Long live the Tigers, and all Tiger lovers.
– Sharad Vats