"Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"
William Blake talks of the tiger as an animal of dramatic contrast. The contrast between the striking beauty of form and its horrific capacity for violence and domination.
The Tiger represents the raw, unadulterated forces of Nature. Wild. Untamable. Huge potential for destruction, yet also mesmerizingly beautiful.
He questions: What immortal hand or eye dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
And I question today, what mortal hand dare destroy the same!?
Some say, he is questioning the benevolence of the supreme creator all beings. What kind of god would create a being of such extremity? Is it a part of the master's master plan. ‘The master Plan' because the same master also created the LAMB (mention in the penultimate stanza) which is the symbol of innocence and tenderness.
But I question again: Did the master plan also have HUMANS make a mockery of the concept of coexistence: was that the way of the humans!?
Whatever the intent of the author would have been, the greatest irony as I see today, is that the, TIGER, himself is trudging the bounds of survival......extinction. The animal once famed as the pinnacle of the master's creative powers, the flagship specie of the Animal Kingdom, has been relegated to a condition of near extinction. The animal universally revered for its magnificence is finding it hard to find a place in the modern world.
The quintessential ‘King of the Jungle' has been relegated to become a ‘Refugee of the Forest'!!
From a populous 40000 at the turn of the 20th century to a mere 2000 at the turn of the 21st, the tigers have had to endure the longest and perhaps the most one sided battle. The battle between the wily and greedy Humans and the magnificent yet helpless tigers.
Tiger's battle for survival has gone through various stages, which almost seems like a systematic plan to erase its existence.
It started with it being a sport for the Royalty. With Maharajas taking pride in shooting the King of the jungle. Tiger skin on the castle walls became a manifestation of a misplaced sense of bravery.
It then went on to become a part of the incumbent Englishman's loot list amongst other things that were Indian and exotic.
These two onslaughts however relented at the first signs of major depletion with both the Royalty and the Englishmen becoming wary of losing the magnificent beasts completely.
But, by then the times had changed and so had stakes but never before have we witnessed such relentless pursuit of a malign objective. Tiger had now become a target of Poaching and a victim of Depleting Habitat. Both of which became deeply invasive because of decades of ignorant administration.
As of now, the forests are becoming more and more fragmented. The population of tigers that each of these can hold individually is exponentially lower that what they can hold if it were a contiguous stretch. Protection of these vast stretches of contiguous forests like the ones in the south (Nagarhole/Bandipur and Madhumalai) or the ones in Central India (Melghat, tadoba, pench, satpura corridor) is what will be pivotal for the survival of the tiger.
Noted conservationalist Dr Ulhas Karanth says, what has always worked in favor for animal kingdom is the privacy they got due to the inaccessibility of their abode.
Whatever was uninhabitable for man was home for them. Inaccessible meant Inviolate!
Protected areas cover barely five per cent of India's land and barely one per cent is for tiger reserves. Such is the state that even that last one percent is no longer sacrosanct! We have railway lines passing through, tourists resorts built right in the heart of the reserves, encroachment by mining companies being ignored.
There are no alchemists in the fight for conservation of the Tiger, and there, most certainly, can't be any panacea for the Tiger to get rid of this crisis.
There have been quite a few clean handed champions of the cause but the battle is so enormous that the effect these people have had individually has quite often been challenged.
Valmik Thapar has devoted a large part of his life trying to make Ranthambore a safe haven for tigers. His book "The Last Tiger" is a comprehensive account of the struggle Tigers have been through. His observations or rather revelations about the family life of tigers in his book "The Secret Life of Tigers" is a literary treat! But even his will has now almost surrendered to the enormity of the problem.
Billy Arjan, Fateh Singh Rathore, Bittu Sehgal, Belinda Wright, Ulhas Karanth and Prerna Bindra are just some of the names that pop out in most Tiger conservation related endeavors.
Most of these champions have fought administratively or though literary flashes. What is probably required now is more incisive action!
One exemplary story of managing wildlife is that of the African Countries. The vast tracts of Savanna in the East African countries have been managed along some very sound fundamentals:
Conserving Wildlife- Protecting Land- Empowering People
The essence being that tourism and conservation can go hand in hand provided the host communities become the main beneficiaries. That is to develop conservation enterprises which deploy and inturn benefit local communities
To their credit the MASAI tribesmen who are the main incumbents at the masai mara game reserve have coexisted with the wildlife for thousands of years and continue to have a surprisingly harmonious relationship with the wild. They still continue to be a pastor tribe and survive majorly on cattle grazing. It was only after a trip to masai mara that I realized that the masai themselves are a tourist attraction as much as the wildlife there!
The fundamental difference between them and us however is that while the land in the African savannas is largely uncultivable. Forest land here in India is either rich with mineral deposits or is rich agriculturally! Thus, the alternatives, to a virgin forest are therefore, economically more attractive!
Like I said before there can be no holy grail to guarantee survival of the Tiger and I am no authority at discussing solutions either. But what has proved to be the single most effective aspect of this struggle in the past has been a STRONG POLITICAL WILL!
An insecure beaurocracy, instability in the government ranks has always meant that, persistent political will has been absent.Indira Gandhi was probably the only political leader/soldier that the cause has seen. A pioneer in her own right, she set a precedent for forceful conservation backed by strong administrative will.
The current congress government is probably the closest to stability that any other government has been in the last twenty years. The will, if now instigated can have some good things initiated for the tigers.
National parks and their residents have to be identified as a national treasure just like our heritage monuments and should be protected by strict laws backed up by a strong will to enforce the same.
As I mentioned earlier, our nature champions have fought relentlessly through administrative or literary tools!This is an issue second to none and the fight now has to become more mainstream.I for one look upto these champions to show the way. Lead the next generation into something more aggressive, more invasive!
Call upon all willing fence sitters like myself to come, conjure an approach based on mass participation. Isolation/Quarantine of all protected area from any kind of industrial/social development is the call of the hour. We need to leave our jungles alone and let them be as inhospitable as ever!
That's when the tiger will be able to reclaim its throne as the PREDATOR MAXIMUS!