Sunday, December 5, 2010

On the Tiger's Trail...

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright, In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry? ~ William Blake

We read this poem in school where our teachers tried to explain the significance to the best of her/his ability. And my mind would conjure up visions of a tiger in a zoo, and the essence of the poem was lost to me.

But now I know that I never understood the essence of the poem, never really visualized the power, the strength, and the grace of a tiger as it truly is till the 27th of November. Yes, I can be that precise because I know the exact moment when the poem hummed through my mind.

On the tiger's trail

It was the morning of 27th November, a little more than a week ago to be precise. A cold, frosty morning in the jungles of Kanha in MP, India. We (my friend and co-blogger Sumeet Moghe and I) waited for our safari jeep to arrive. It was still impenetrably dark outside, the trees loomed like huge black shadows, weirdly shaped, mysterious. The moonlight glinted down casting strange, hallucinatory shapes on the ground, tricking my eyes. We stood quietly listening to the jungle sounds--a music offered for free if one cares to listen. 

Very soon our safari jeep arrived and we were off. The chilling wind stung our faces, bringing tears to the eyes. I stuffed my hands in the pockets of my jacket in the faint hope of keeping them warm. We entered the jungle premises and our driver and guide in one accord decided on a route to follow through the dense jungle. Their experience endowed them with an instinct that we could not fathom. We had barely gone a kilometer when our guide pointed out the pug marks of a male tiger on the ground--still fresh and clear on the frosty ground. A thrill of expectation shivered down my spine. Driving cautiously, we followed the pug marks. The dense jungle of sal and bamboo trees belies any effort to see through it. The brambles and bushes that lie between them are perfect cover for the wildlife there. Nature's patterns are flawless till we humans decide to mess with them. 

We must have covered almost 15 kilometers across the rugged terrain of the Kanha, deep into the heart of the jungle when the pug marks vanished into the jungle. "He must be somewhere close by," whispered our guide. We tried to look through the impenetrable barriers of the thick foliage, unable to see anything, the tall grasses a fitting camouflage for the tiger. Just then, a roar very close to where we stood galvanized us into action. Out came the cameras, the chill was forgotten. "He'll come out somewhere here," was our guide's pronouncement. 

Sure enough, the king of beasts, the largest cat of the jungle emerged, barely ten feet away from where we stood. I know I almost forgot to breathe. To see this magnificent animal in his natural surroundings--proud, graceful, charismatic--was a miracle. This is one experience I know for certain I will carry with me till I die. 

He walked towards us--unconcerned and imperious. Even as I tried to keep my camera focused on him (and this was tough as the instinct to just gaze in awe was uppermost), I kept wondering at the levels of depravity and ignorance that could lead to the killing of this beautiful beast. All because some rich, misguided individuals with money to spare think a dead tiger's skin on the floor of their home symbolize status. And that is not all. Every conceivable part of a tiger from the bones to the penis are used to make traditional Chinese medicines.
Demand in China poses the greatest threat to tigers in the wild and organised crime runs the illicit trade in the world's largest felines, according to international experts," states a report from the Tiger Summit.
To be very honest, although I had been aware of the outcry against tiger poaching, and like to think of myself as someone who cares deeply about the fate of animals on our planet, I had been just a passive, armchair lover of animals. Quite useless. 

Till I saw this magnificent beast face to face. 

For the past one week I have not been able to get the image of his imperious walk out of my mind but it soon gets eclipsed by gruesome ones of trapped or poisoned tigers. These have been haunting me enough to make me write this post. And as I write, I realize that this immensely powerful beast can't speak for itself. It is up to us to do the talking, to raise our voices and make enough noise that will force some folks out there to take action. Our individual voices may not be loud enough but collectively, we can create a roar.

And finally, the following perfect moment of serendipity spurred me to action, made me feel ashamed about my inertia. I heard this talk by Shekhar Dattatri where he says, "When I was 10 years old, my life changed when I read this book by Gerald Durrell, My Adventures in the Forest"...I could only wonder at the beauty of serendipity. This is the same book I read at the same age that fueled my passion for animals and their right to share this planet with us. Thank you Shekhar for reminding me of this once again.

If you feel strongly about saving our tigers, our forests and our ecology do share the post, write your own, tweet--anything that will help to protect and preserve the tigers. A little bit of our time is all they need. And as Shekha Dattatri says, 2,400 years ago people knew this intrinsic synergy between human life, the forest and the tiger. The Mahabharat cites it. If we let our tigers go, so will our forests and eventually us. 

Here are the links to some videos that taught me a lot about tigers. 

The Truth About Tigers - Part 1 - a film by Shekar Dattatri

The Truth about Tigers - Part 2 - a film by Shekar Dattatri

The Truth about Tigers - Part 3 - a film by Shekar Dattatri

Off the Record - Shekar Dattatri -WILD-LIFE & CONSERVATION FILM-MAKER - EPI 27 - 3(3) -

I am visiting the following two tiger reserves in the coming two weeks: Nagarhole and Bandipur. Even if I don't encounter a tiger, I am still keen to explore and understand their natural habitats better. 


  1. Great story about your tiger adventures. That must have been an amazing sight and experience. There is probably nothing more spectacular in nature than a tiger.
    I will be in India in January watching eagles and hopefull a tiger (either in Kazirange National Park or Corbett NP).

    Here are two great books about tiger conservation. One is only about tigers, the other about wild cats in general. I am currently reading both and love them. There is nothing better on the subject. Both were published in 2010. They might be of interested to you.

    Tigers of the World, Second Edition: The Science, Politics and Conservation of Panthera tigris
    Publisher: Academic Press; 2 edition (January 29, 2010)
    ISBN-13: 978-0815515708

    The Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids
    Publisher: Oxford University Press
    ISBN-13: 978-0199234455

    I also like the work done by Panthera:

    Hope this is helpful.

    I hope that I will be lucky in India and see the world's most amazing predator!

  2. Hi Markus,

    Thank you for your comment. It was indeed an amazing experience. Seeing an animal as magnificent as the tiger so close up is a strangely humbling experience. Thank you for the recommendations. I will surely read them. Recently, I have been reading Tiger: The Ultimate Guide edited by Valmik Thapar and published by Oxford University Press. It's a collection of some very interesting and insightful articles by the experts in the field of animal and ecological conservation. I am thoroughly enjoying the book and learning heaps from it.

    I am traveling to Corbett, Ranthambore, and Gir in the summer. I hope you have really good sightings in January. If you have time, Nagarahole is another tiger reserve in India completely worth visiting. I am going back there towards the end of February.

  3. Hi Sahana,

    I have the book of Valmik Thapar. He is a true tiger conservation hero.
    In 3 weeks I'll be in Corbett. Can't wait to be there and hopefully see a Tiger and several species of eagles like the Pallas Fish Eagle or the Mountain Hawk Eagle.

    I am sure you will have a lot of fun in the summer when you make your trips. Friends of mine were in Gir last year and they had an amazing time.


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