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    Volume 9 Issue 6 | February 5, 2010|

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Tigers in Trouble

Aasha Mehreen Amin

It's incredible. Although the forests have been continually denuded, reducing their living space, not to mention their daily grub and despite the fact that the local humans have little love for these gorgeous creatures (trapping, killing and poaching them) Royal Bengal Tigers are increasing in number in the Sundarbans! This is what the state minister for forest and environment has said in the first Tiger Action Plan last month.

According to a Daily Star report (February 2, 2010) censuses in 35 years till 2009 have put the number between 350 and 450 although in the last 9 years at least 29 tigers (23 were beaten to death) have been killed. If this is the rate at which these royal cats are being eliminated it is indeed difficult to understand how the numbers are actually increasing. Is it because they have managed to live like us human city dwellers, seven to eight tigers per little patch in the forest? Or, again like us humans, are they breeding like rabbits despite the fact that there is hardly any food to eat? Very intriguing questions, no doubt. Tiger experts, however, do not buy this grand announcement of tigers increasing in number.

For one thing you can't tell how many tigers are where. As for counting the pugmarks, that's clever, if you know everyone's shoe size. For all you know, the same tiger could be coming and going a hundred times looking desperately for food that is so scarce that he/she needs to keep moving. But apparently counting pugmarks is one of the ways to do this so maybe there is something to it.

I am not sure how one does a survey of tigers, most of them a little peckish these days, without getting one's head or some necessary part bitten off, though I'm sue the experts know how. But we don't need to be tiger experts to logically think that these poor, beautiful creatures are in constant danger of being extinct. We are taking away their natural homes, their food, their tranquility of their forests. One wouldn't be surprised if some of them just died out of sheer depression. Seriously. Humans migrate when their homeland can no longer sustain them. But where will the tigers go?

The apalling apathy and even animosity towards animals is something we must be rid of. Talking about how we must save the planet and then killing off the few rare species of animals left is not going to get us any brownie points at global summits on the environment.

On the street, children and even adults go around pelting street dogs just for the heck of it, to listen to the pitiful yelping. In the villages, villagers have no qualms about trapping tigers or civets and beating them to death. Obviously no one, especially no government, has cared enough to carry out widespread campaigns to make people understand the value of these animals to our ecosystems and to our lives.

A few weeks ago I happened to see a documentary about a group of Thai monks who had practically adopted a band of tigers and given them refuge at their monastery. One particular monk had initiated this adoption and it was accepted by all the others. His face still bore the scars of a wound when one of the tigers had playfully hit him with his paw but this did not lessen his love for the tigers. In the most amazing way, the tigers had tamed them, enough to let them sleep in their room, feeding the young ones with baby bottles, scratching their bellies as if they were regular home cats. It was not because they had some kind of death wish (although I wouldn''t recommend this level of empathy towards tigers to lay persons) that they allowed these dangerous animals into their sanctuary. It was because of their deep respect and love for all living creatures. And of course the fact that some of them could actually get a tiger snoring just by pressing one's fingers on its forehead and hypnotising it to sleep (again do not try this at home, at the zoo or in the forest).

Coming back to our own tigers, the few left in our Sundarbans are constantly in danger of being killed by humans or prolonged starvation. The environment minister may say we have more tigers than before just as he says drilling a dredging pipe through Balda Garden for a housing project will not hurt the rare flora and fauna but even we the ordinary public do not believe such ridiculous claims.

Humans need more space as they increase in number but we cannot do this at the cost of the other precious creatures (and plants) we share this earth with. So please, let's cut the crap and save our tigers.


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