Tuesday, February 15, 2005

No tigers at Sariska

Many decades ago, my family made a trip to Sariska. This was before words like "eco-tourism" and "conservation" had entered the vocabulary. It was just beginning to sink in that you could, actually, kill off species through greed, or neglect, or indifference. My siblings, cousins and I didn't really know this.
What we didn't know, and discovered on the trip, was a word called "awe". There is something about trying to fit your sneaker-covered foot into a huge pugmark, about being inducted into the mysteries of spoor and scat and what they mean, that changes your perception of the jungle forever.
We saw tigers everywhere. In the form of nilgai, in shadows, in far-off noises.
Many years later, in the Sunderbans, I saw my first tiger in the wild. The only tigers I had seen before that sighting were the ones in circuses--this was before animal rights activists managed to shut those little shops of horror down--or zoos.
The one in the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans was different. Hugely confident, even facing a group of about a dozen people; clear that it was his territory we were trespassing into, he marked trees, tracks, temple pillars. In the manner of all cats, he reacted to us, but he didn't kill us, though there were several points where he could have, he merely warned us off. And got back to his business.
There are no tigers in Sariska any more. They have been changed, mother, father, cubs, into tigerskins and claws, potent love amulets and war talismans, things so much more precious to some humans to the real tiger.
It takes about twenty years to nurture a proper tiger population, to give tiger families the knowledge that they can go on with their business in freedom from fear. It took roughly six months, between July and December 2004, to let poachers destroy all the tigers of Sariska.