Zero option: Save the Tiger

It is a travesty of our times that a Google search of the word 'tiger' shows more entries of the philandering golfer, Tiger Woods, rather than the majestic, striped and hypnotic big cat that ruled the jungles of India not too long ago. It is ironic though that these days there are more stuffy and stuffed tigers than the real ones. Some of them sit or place their feet on the slain tiger's skin and behave as if they are the true recipients of the great cat's power and charisma and, therefore, have the right to enforce their diktat on the unwilling. At display are third-rate politicians, xenophobes and rabble-rousers who put their mugshot in place of the tiger to masquerade as those who can make their own laws and write their own rules of politics and society. Whatever they may do or say, they will remain pathetic cut-outs that are growing at the expense of the real big cat. The hate-based violence that they unleash is that of a straggling man-eater who has lost his skills to hunt and kills injudiciously and indiscriminately. It should not really take too much to understand that our reference is both to the four legged tiger and the likes of Bal Thackeray, who pumps himself as a pseudo tiger.

While the real tiger is facing extinction, the man-eating pretenders like the Shiv Sena boss Thackeray, carry on inexorably. Their hate-based and divisive politics is tearing up the secular politics of Mumbai and its hinterland. Impressionistically, it can be said that the growth of the real tigers and those who live off holding their cut-outs is inversely proportional to each other.

There were 1, 00,000 tigers at the turn of the last century. Now, barely 4,000 survive all over the world. 1,411 of the endangered species live in India. Some wildlife experts take these figures as an exaggeration due to the uncertain method of counting pug marks. Overestimation in the tiger census is believed to be about 20 per cent. Despite the tangible fear that the entire tiger population may get wiped off during our life time, there has been an absence of coordinated global action to prevent the obliteration of this precious cat species. Dwindling tiger habitat and the traditional face-off between man and beast, accompanied by the commercialisation of the animal's parts, are some of the reasons for the rapid decline of this majestic predator. The mindless lust of the Chinese and Tibetans for tiger skins and parts provides incentive for Indian poachers and criminals to ruthlessly kill the striped cats through what is clearly an organised and relentless poaching mafia.

  It is a matter of deep shame for the government at the Centre as well in the states that they have not been able to stop the poachers and mafia gangs from killing this amazingly beautiful beast. If all the tigers get killed, then it would not only disrupt the food chain and eco-cycle, but also deeply impact the threat emanating from climate change. Tiger conservation, as experts have repetitively pointed out, tests the efficacy of government policies at wildlife protection as well as the strength of the habitat. At some stage, the inability of the State to protect an endangered species is a manifestation of governance and whether all the enforcement agencies, incorruptibly, are working in concert with each other. The creation of Tiger reserves all over the country and the wonderfully mounted campaign by telecom provider Aircel to 'Save the Tiger' would be meaningless if there is no imaginative and realistic support from the government. The Chinese Year of the Tiger can either revive the falling tiger population or tragically reduce them into inanimate replicas of a wonderful and incredible beast that once ruled the animal kingdom fearlessly.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2010