IndiaGBnews special correspondent Aline Dobbie is a champion of the Indian tiger, as detailed in her celebrated second book about her travels in India, The Tiger’s Roar. Ahead of Global Tiger Day on July 29 Aline discusses the heritage of one of the greatest animals on earth, and the campaign to save it from the scourge of poachers. Twitter:@AlineDobbie (tiger photographs – Aline Dobbie)
Tigers, 40,000 of these magnificent beasts roamed the jungles and wild places of India when I was born in north India, now if we are lucky we have about 3,000 at the most. In their time the British were the complete arrogant idiots who soothed their egos by shooting tigers…. I suppose the machismo of their era, and even now there are trophy hunters mostly from the US and some from Germany and the unwise ex-king of Spain who indulge their futility by ‘bagging big game’ usually in tame surroundings that would make the average shikari (Indian skilled hunter) wince. Thankfully in India this sort of trophy hunting is not allowed whereas in Africa it very much is. Tigers, my friends, need all of our support because their biggest enemies are the poachers who under the patronage of the Chinese and the Vietnamese have cruelly killed countless tigers to feed the futile market in the Far East for what are considered magical properties of tiger bones, penises and the like. Equally elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns and other big cats for their pelts. July 29 is Global Tiger Day so please let us all do our bit to support tiger conservation and indeed that of all wildlife throughout the world. We humans after all are the Custodians of our world and the animals need the support and commitment of those who would see them continue in great numbers for the future.
Leaning out from the Jeep, looking at the fresh pug marks of a tiger made the hair on my neck stand up. The peacock continued his shrill alarm; the sambar deer was ‘belling’ and alerting the jungle that tiger was on the move. I chanced to look behind me and there she was, a wonderful tigress crossing the track thirty feet away! The sheer beauty and the thrill of seeing this magnificent animal made one almost shiver in the cool morning air, the sun had not yet fully risen and the mist was still low over the glades and elephant grass.
Meanwhile the jungle calls were adding to the sense of anticipation and excitement. Providentially – perhaps the Tiger God was smiling on us – an elephant appeared and the mahout quickly saw we needed his jungle transport. With great speed, the adrenalin pumping, we leapt from the jeep’s roll bar on to the elephant’s howdah and she sped off in pursuit into the forest. What ensued was amazing; the tigress did not leave the area and we came face to face with her and then she turned and pounced. There followed a short desperate scream and the tigress stood looking at us with the body of a chital fawn in her jaws; the little one had obviously been abandoned by his panicked mother and had hoped to save itself in the long grass. The tigress regarded us steadily for a few moments then bounded away. We were spellbound and returned on the elephant to the track. I patted the elephant and noticed her eyelashes – they are about two inches long. What splendid animals elephants are and so courageous.
Be it in Ranthambhore (where incidentally there are no elephants) or Sariska, or Bandhavgarh where this incident took place but sadly no longer are elephants used for tourist transport, or Kanha or Pench or Corbett or Tadoba or Satpura, maybe Bandipur and Nagarole in Karnataka or Kaziranga in Assam, there is the thrill and anticipation of seeing the king of the jungle, and in the Gir Lion Sanctuary in Gujarat, if fortunate, one will see the Asiatic lion, plus the wildlife and stunning birdlife on the Little Rann of Kutch. I enjoy India’s great wildlife parks and have an ear and an eye open for all the creatures, be it a small sleepy looking owl to a solitary leopard high on a rampart looking down at you in the dawn light. Chital stags battling for territory, kingfishers of all sizes, serpent eagles, nilgai and sambar deer, wild pig, peacocks strutting in a jungle glade, porcupines, gaur the mighty bovine of the jungles, a sloth bear if you are very lucky as we were earlier this year in Satpura, all these and much more will make a visual feast. Then the birds make one’s heart stop with their beauty, paradise flycatchers, golden orioles, bee eaters, Indian rollers, hoopoes and the list goes on.
This year in January we visited Pench for the first time and on our last morning had the thrill of seeing a pair of male tigers who came out from the undergrowth and walked up in a leisurely way and crossed the road right in front of us; truly it was the most wonderful experience to see those two fine males who were answering the call of their third brother. Then in Ranthambhore we chanced upon a sleepy tiger who finally stood up for us to see him in all his glory, and just as we were leaving we saw another tigress who was also slumbering …. glorious experiences because I have been sometimes in a park and had no sightings of tigers and one contents oneself with other wildlife but the tigers – they are the cherry on the top!
India has the highest number of migratory bird species of any country. Each park has its own specific attractions; all of them have that intrinsic beauty of a wild special place with peace and tranquillity and when the elephant grass flowers it looks like a sea of waving white and silvery plumes, perhaps with a shy herd of deer grazing; a jungle pool, a quiet glade and a tiny kingfisher fishing – stop be still – allow the magic of India’s wild places to enter your heart. Help us please in the Conservation of Tigers.
www.tigerawareness.co.uk Tiger Charity registered in UK