The Tiger Games
Will tigers live to see the end of the 21st century? Will the forests of India? Will the natural world? Will Indian cultures?
Suprabha Seshan Sultan Bathery / Wayanad (Kerala)
The year 2012 was marked by 78 tiger killings across India — the highest in 10 years. Indeed, we will soon be saying, “Once upon a time, there were tigers... The animals, the worship, the ancient cults, the conservation efforts, the tiger films and photography industry, as well as the trade in hides, organs, claws, teeth, bones, skin, and gaping maws on museum walls: all of this will wind up. The Royal Bengal Tiger story will soon draw to a close, gone will be the animals, and gone will be the humans, mostly indigenous peoples (adivasis) and a few naturalists who know anything about them. Give tigers another 20 years. Give those humans another 50. Tigers, adivasi stories of tigers, and films and research data on tigers will be frozen in the Internet, for as long as the Internet thrives; give those another 100 years.
The writing of this piece began at the height of a tiger furore in Wayanad — a small, rapidly-changing, forested district in Kerala where I live. I heard about a frenzied mob gloating over a tiger’s murder in broad daylight. It began when I heard desperation in the voices of friends who had been fighting for forests, tigers and every wild and indigenous being in this area. It began with insights gleaned from two adivasi friends, who had different interpretations of the murderous incident. I figured that it was all part of a land scam fuelled by a rumour that a Tiger Reserve was to be declared which would restrict the wheeling and dealing in land that’s become the rage in my district, now a world destination for tourists. I started writing to peer through the stories to the undercurrents: of hope and false hope, of deceit and truth-telling, of fanfare and reality checks, of denial and acceptance within our culture and, through these, to examine our culture’s real effect on tigers.
I called it ‘The Tiger Games’ (after The Hunger Games: the best-selling trilogy by Suzanne Collins) because I believe the last wild places are like arenas, where animals, plants, land, adivasis and farmers (all those belonging to traditional communities of numerous cohabiting species), are pitted against each other in a desperately worsening situation, pressed in on all sides by rapid forces of urbanisation, and
the relentless drive of extractive industrial corporations.
I wrote ‘The Tiger Games’ remembering a handsome young tiger I met once in a forest not far from my home, a tiger whose beauty is imprinted forever on my heart. We were both walking. I offer this to him.
Give tigers another 20 years. Give humans another 50. Tigers, adivasi stories of tigers, and films and research data on tigers will be frozen in the Internet, for as long as the Internet thrives; give those another 100 years
If any of the following apply to you:
If you wonder why there are only as many tigers as there were 40 years ago when Project Tiger was initiated, despite the largest systematic global attempt to save a single species;
If you fear tigers are doomed despite all the efforts on earth to protect them and that 800, 1,400, or 1,700 Bengal tigers (numbers wildly flung around by various expert opinions) are too close to no tigers at all; when 40,000 tigers walked the subcontinent in 1900;
If you love tigers and have met them on their terms and not your own, and you were neither armed, nor in a vehicle, and in fact, you were just surprised, pleasantly so, for you had the chance, the fleeting chance to say hello, as neighbours would, to each other;
If you are disturbed by the fact that virtual tigers multiply exponentially while real tigers decline, that is, more photographs of tigers, more films on tigers, more books on tigers, more T-shirts printed with tigers, more advertisements carrying a tiger’s image and more tiger parts for a thriving tiger parts industry;
If you are enraged by the complacency of urban tourists in viewing, photographing and framing the tiger, irrespective of whether tigers thrive or not;
If you are aghast by how privileged Indians steal credit for “coexistence between tigers and humans in India” from adivasi and traditional rural communities who face the same future as tigers;
If you’ve analysed all the tiger data you can lay your hands on, read all the media reports on tigers and their fate, and you know that the fight for the tiger, or against the tiger, is really a fight for (or against) territory, for control of land as mining potential and land as money;
If you know with furious and damning clarity that a big squeeze is on at breakneck speed in the jungles and rural hinterlands of the developing world, in one way or another, overt or covert, but always armed by the militaries of Super States, and that these will ensure the end of tigers and other wild and indigenous beings;
If you believe that the impact of 1.2 billion humans on 1,400 tigers (population explosion of one species and genocide of the other) is not as serious a cause as the increasingly unlawful appropriation of vast tracts of land and vast amounts of resources by a few;