A Tragic Tiger Tale

One of the last in India

(Greg) A tigress and her two cubs wait, thirsty, to cross a road inside a reserve while local pilgrims trek to and from a temple inside that same reserve. The tigress and her cubs are forced to wait, getting thirstier and more desperate. At dusk, 6 rambunctious, drunk young men coming rolling down the mountain from the temple. One sees the tigress and, to show his false courage, throws a rock at her. The tigress is cornered, frustrated and under attack. In defense of her cubs, she jumps out, removes the boy’s head and proceeds to lead her cubs across the road to water. Though no “man eater,” the local villagers do not rest until the mother is shot.

A local cowherd has crossed the reservation boundary and illegally brings his cattle deep inside in search of fresh grazing. A tiger kills one of the cows to feed her four new cubs. The cowherd and local villagers immediately find and poison the cow carcass with ammonia. The mother and two of her cubs return to eat the cow and soon die, the two remaining orphans struggle for survival.

There are maybe 1,000 tigers still alive in India. Hunting records show that between 1800 and 1950, no less than 160,000 tigers were recorded as taken for trophies and exterminated as pests. During that time, the government officially labeled predatory cats as pests and paid a bounty of 5 rupees for a dead tiger and 2.5 rupees for a dead leopard. That is 11 cents and 5.5 cents in today’s exchange. By the time that Indira Ghandi launched her Project Tiger in 1972, the official tiger population in India was down to 1,800. Now it is probably less than 1,000.

Shrinking habitat and Chinese medicine will end the tiger. Back when heroic hunters and pest exterminators were blasting 160,000 tigers out of the bush, India was 50% forest. Today it is 18% and closing fast. A country of 1.3 billion, adding 20 million every year cannot afford to set aside space for its land’s true native inhabitants. Worse, those tigers that can find refuge in the existing reserves are all too often betrayed by corrupt officials who turn an open palm and a blind eye to poachers. Thirty tigers, 100% of the population in Sariska Reserve, fell to poachers by the end of 2004. Chinese markets value every ounce of the tiger’s corpse. Surprisingly, the skin is least valuable. Tiger bones fetch $500 per kilo. Adult tigers have a skeleton weighing over 100 kilos. The teeth, the claws, the pancreas and the gall bladder are all believed to have the usual strengthening effect on the Chinese libido. What chance does the tiger have in the face of these foes?

When a career coach asked me 10 years ago what I would want to do if I could do anything, I told him that I would like to spend some time trying to do something important, like helping to save the tiger. Ten years later and in the middle of Indian tiger country, I am as despondent now as I was optimistic then.

We planned this trip to show the kids places around the world that are hotbeds of cultural and ecological change; so we could see and experience it while we still can. We didn’t plan on the emotional toll such exposure would bring with it. Overpopulation is almost always the root cause of the problems we witness. Often we are left feeling challenged but hopeful for a twist in the plot and a happy ending. Today, outside Rathanbhore Tiger reserve, I feel we are watching a tragedy with no hope of any ending but the worst.

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4 Responses to “A Tragic Tiger Tale”

  1. Carter Wilcox 22. Mar, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Even though this is a sad topic, you wrote extremelly well and with great wisdom. I am impressed.

  2. Carter Wilcox 22. Mar, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Your entire family are great writers and it is a joy to read your blog.

  3. Just saw a short brief in the NYT I thought you would enjoy: India said on monday that a new nationwide survey reports that progress has been made in savng endanger tigers. The population count is up 20% since five years ago, up from 1411 in 2006 to 1706 in the most recent count. So, some good news finally emerging for our striped friends!
    Hoot on in Bhutan! d

  4. Thats so sad the poor person! I hope you are having a blast! Annie