Tara – A Tigress by Billy Arjan Singh

Tara – A Tigress by Billy Arjan Singh

January/March 1982: In a world that has eventually realised the value of its natural wealth, most nations are engaged in a race to save what is left of their wildlife, forests and natural areas. But for some animals it may already be too late. Tigers for instance, though saved temporarily, have been isolated in pockets on the sub-continent and do not have the opportunity to intermix between one area and another.


This means that their progeny may face, in the future, the possibility of in-breeding problems. To counter such problems there are some naturalists who favour the idea of translocating tigers from zoos to forests to improve the genetic pool. Others feel that this action would be ill-advised as animals so released would either die as a result of having lost their hunting abilities, or may turn into man-eaters or cattle-lifters as they stray to villages in search of easy prey.


Whatever be the merits or demerits of any particular suggestion, no one can ignore the portents for the future and dissent is bound to take place as involved people search for solutions.


Billy Arjan Singh has many admirers and many detractors. He is, however, accepted by all as a naturalist who has the animal's welfare at heart. He was mainly responsible for the creation of the Dudhwa National Park where eventually he released a tigress, obtained from foreign shores as a cub, in the hope that she may establish herself, find a suitable mate and procreate. Therein lies a tale; for the authorities insist that Tara, as the tigress was named, is dead; the victim of an ill-advised experiment. Arjan Singh, however, in his latest book titled, `Tara -- a Tigress' maintains that she is alive and well and that his experiment was an unqualified success. Somewhere in between these two poles lies the truth, battered by miscommunication and human frailty. We give below some excerpts from the book:


“When people who should know better say that it is impossible to reintroduce hand-reared wild animals into their natural environment, they speak through ignorance. The instincts of such animals pull them towards a return to natural conditions of life, and all that is required in the case of major predators is that they should be isolated from humans soon enough for them to retain their inborn natural abhorrence of the human presence. Once necessity and the environment take over, the dependent animal will soon evolve into the complete predator."


"The successful conclusion of any wildlife project is a source of great satisfaction, and when it demonstrates that a declining population can be restored to its original state, then the possibilities seem endless. Reactions are often debased by social stresses, but deep down in most humans is a concern for the underdog. Venerated in folklore and legend, the predator is everywhere under threat of extinction. Sport killing and the fur trade have taken their toll. Competition and the desire to eliminate a rival, and thereby acquire a status symbol, have served to drive the great predators to the point of no return, and when the legend is complete we will have to live with our regrets. For it has truly been said that we have not inherited the earth from our parents, but have borrowed it from our children.


Of the eight sub-species of tiger, four are either extinct or nearing extinction. Yet scientific quibbles still deny the integration of one sub-species with another, although they have both descended from a common ancestor in Siberia and adapted to their environment during the process of colonization. Minimal populations in restricted areas are all eventually doomed to genetic failure and extinction, and the only remedy is the translocation of animals by an international body in the belief that they will evolve a local morphology in the course of time. If the white rhino could be moved from South Africa, why can't we do the same with the tiger? Hitler's theory of herrenvolk was condemned, but are we being anthropomorphic when we apply the concept of ‘One World’ to save the tiger?


Wildlife is a truly international subject: the developed nations, who have largely destroyed their own wild animals, seek to preserve those of the developing countries. However, the government of the people by the people and for the people is strictly on a national basis, and in this lies the greatest danger to the preservation of wildlife. The fact that Tara came from Twycross Zoo in England and was integrated into an Indian National Park demonstrates that international cooperation is possible. Is it too much to hope that this might set an example for the future?”


“Before we could leave, however, an ominous rumble came in the shape of a telephone call from India. Some bright person had pointed out that no zoos had pure-bred Indian tigers and that a mixed strain should not be imported into the country. I was taken aback and obtained confirmation from Twycross that Tara was indeed a tigress of Indian parentage. It struck me as a most ludicrous scientific quibble when every effort was being made to save the tiger from extinction. While we were prepared to talk of racial integration among humans and condemn Hitler's theory of herrenvolk, it seemed that we applied different standards to animals which had the same natural functions as our own, but from whom we were too proud to take lessons. Also, India had been unable to produce a tiger cub for the occasion!”


“I had to leave Tiger Haven to attend a meeting in Delhi, but Babu Lal relates that in the early night a bear grunted and fled near the Double Storey Machan and Tara visited the Jungle Fowl Jetty Reach. Her pugmarks showed that she came as far as her cage, though she did not enter it, and that she had then swum across the Soheli after jumping into the tethered boat. The next three days she spent with the male tiger in the neighbourhood: several places where the grass had been flattened by rolling revealed the presence of the two tigers. Then they disappeared  – Tara had finally chosen to return to the wild.”


“Nowhere do I claim to have taught Tara anything, for the simple reason that a human cannot teach an animal: his lifestyle is too different. The tiger belongs to the hours of darkness when his acute senses are employed in a search for prey and for procreation; the daylight hours are devoted to the seclusion which he normally seeks. The human, on the other hand, lives in an artificial environment of his own making and it is sheer arrogance for him to claim that a hand-reared wild animal will be so smitten by regular mealtimes that it will not wish to leave.”


“When Tara left she too was responding to her instincts: as a female she was more dependent than a male because of her biological functions, and what she did was to exchange one form of dependence for another, choosing as a replacement the young male tiger who had been in constant attendance in her later days at Tiger Haven. All I did was to give her the option and the opportunity.”


“Tara had now been living in the wild for almost three months and at this point an interesting change took place in the social relations between the local tigers. In the middle of April, Tara's pugmarks were seen for the first time with Long Toes near the Ghulli Pool. Evidently she had switched partners. Not long after, this was confirmed when my brother Balram made the first definite sighting of Tara as he was driving towards Tiger Haven.”


“I had to wait until early the following year before I finally succeeded in getting the photograph I needed. By then I realized that it had to be taken by night, and as my own equipment was not sophisticated enough for night pictures I sought the help of a young naturalist who possessed a motor-operated camera and a remote-control device. Tara was now regularly attending feeding sessions with Old Crooked Foot and the other tigers at the spillway site at Tiger Reach, and only fifty metres away there was a machan. We camouflaged the cameras and tried to muffle the sound of the motor, which was within a few metres of the kill, in the hope that the tigers would confuse the flash with some unseasonal summer lightning. This worked remarkably well, and in the photographs which emerged the left-cheek stripe matched the one in a picture taken of Tara when she was about fourteen months old. So too did right eyespot. At last there could be no doubt in anybody's mind that Tara was alive. Her survival as a wild tigress had shown that it was indeed possible to take a zoo-born cub of the fifth generation and reintroduce her to her native habitat more than 8000 kilometres away.”


“Since last years three tigresses have been declared man-eaters, and two tigers and three tigresses have been shot. In no instance have the cubs been successfully rescued. Thus we treat our national animal. The remedy surely is to tranquilise these hard-pressed animals and translocate them to favourable areas, but it is easier to kill them and apportion their skins to the murderers -- even in death wildlife must pay for itself.”


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