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The Royal Bengal Tiger of India

October 5, 2014


In Sri Sailam in Nallamala hills, had a chance to visit the wildlife museum after a ‘darshan’ at the Mallikarjun (Shiva) temple, a very ancient one, some 8 years back. (Must have photos, searching for them in vain). My heart bled at the sight of the magnificent beasts – Bengal Tigers – some measuring over 8-9 feet in length and nearly 4-5 feet in height stuffed and kept as exhibits there. These were the tigers that roamed the Andhra forests – Nallamala hills that were shot by the British during the Raj. How anyone could even have the heart to shoot and kill and skin these beautiful creations of God belied me completely. The size of the stuffed tigers is what caught my attention most. Having seen tigers in captivity in Malaysia and Singapore zoos, I was not prepared for the sheer size of Bengal Tiger that I first encountered in India in the form of a stuffed animal. The taxidermy looked so good as if the tigers had died only the previous day. So sad. Vaguely recall seeing 1-2 sick tigers long, long back in city circuses when I was a little girl. (Ever since, circuses in India are legally prohibited from using wild animals in their shows.)That the Bengal Tiger could measure upto such a height and weight and body strength was unbelievable. And no wonder, the hunted ones are all trophies today adorning our museums and govt offices, the ones left behind by the British tired of stripping India of all our riches.

The state of Terengganu in Malaysia has a vast forest reserve area. Once in a friend’s street bordering the forests in Paka, 2 tigers had walked upto the edge of human settlement. Half an hour later the Malaysian police arrived with rifles as if the tigers would keep waiting for them. My friend’s house was the last one with windows facing into the wild. From that day, the entire street shut down – like children were not allowed to play outdoors. The locals were too scared to take out the cars late in the evenings. In Dungun, our house adjoined forests again. I had monkey menace every single day and once a group of large monkeys started their aggressive behaviour all of a sudden. I kept my windows – grilled ones – open. They could not get in but I found that they were trying the lock in the front door as well as in the kitchen door to get in. To my shock, they were showing gestures through the window! They all looked angry, like ready to pounce! For nearly 3 hours, they held me and son captive in the bedroom. I pushed a cot against the door and held back in the bedroom after calling my husband, hoarding  another cot against the bedroom window. Being surrounded by over 2 dozen raging monkeys is not usual. They kept banging, battering my doors and windows for hours before help arrived. Yet I knew, it was I who was the intruder in their space,not them in mine. What do you expect living in the edge of the forest. My little son though, enjoyed the day thoroughly! He wasn’t a bit as scared – he loved the monkeys for their antics!

In Terengganu, getting peacock meat or tiger meat was not unusual. Sadly there were some shady chinese restaurants that served that to special clients. My husband was once taken to one such a place by his chinese friends. Malaysian chinese truly believe eating the tiger organs would make a man more manly. I had an argument later with my husband for trying the endangered species. Its illegal in Malaysia, but it is happening in broad daylight. Tiger poaching is a reality in Malaysia, one of Asia’s last refuge for the big cat family.

In Doha until my son was in school, almost every year we visited the zoo. My son shares my enthusiasm for animals and birds, and in fact goes one step ahead with his fascination for the insect world. Tigers were partially housed in air-conditioned comfort in Doha zoo – cool! But that still wrenched my heart. To keep the Bengal Tiger confined within small spaces in itself is such a disturbing thought. And next to that were the African lions. Well, money can buy everything I can see. But not the soul. The animals looked bored, beaten.

Seeing more tigers of late, the last ones being in the Al Ain Zoo in UAE and in the Mysore Zoo. Al Ain was okay, spacious somewhat that relieved me. Mysore Zoo is a good one but the tigers were still housed in huge cages. In fact filmed the tiger walk – I didn’t expect the predator to be caged in Mysore which has a good rating when it comes to care for animals. We learned, the animals were being prepared a special enclosure and the present arrangement was temporary. Almost a dozen tigers were there in Mysore – all measuring upto 6 feet minimum in length. Their grunts could be heard a km afar. Their walk – OMG, god save you if you get anywhere closer!

And what a walk that was. I can’t find the video now, looking for it in last few days. The tigers were restless, so impatient, pacing up and down menacingly that mere standing in front of them got us nervous. These big cats are not easy animals to handle – and truly they belong in the wild. Through it all, my heart went out to the tigers who were confined to barely minimum roomspace by humans. That the tigers looked far healthy was a small consolation. Many corporates and cricket players sponsor each and every animal in Mysore zoo – spotted names like Rahul Dravid, Sri Nath etc of Karnataka Ranji/National team pledging to care for the animals lifelong. Such a touching gesture.

I think the tigers in the Mysore zoo were the healthiest and happiest over those I saw in Singapore or Malaysia or Doha or Dubai frankly. Probably here I am seeing them in their home turf – in natural setting. The climate most definitely could be one defining reason. In other places, they are plucked from India and planted. Here they are so desi – I loved them for that. Even size wise I saw, those in India looked bigger. All the Singapore/Malaysia/Dubai/Doha dollars and dirhams cannot buy one the heart of the Bengal Tiger – that truly belongs only in India. This is what struck me most when I was face to face with the Bengal Tigers in Mysore zoo. They looked so royal, the pride of India they are and naturally the Royal Bengal Tiger is the National Animal of India without a question (while the national bird is peacock and the national flower is lotus).

Albinos – white tigers, are rare but I found them maximum in Al Ain zoo.

In India, Andhra Pradesh (Telengana), Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajastan, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh (Chattisgarh and Jharkhand) – all these states have tigers living in the wild even though the numbers of this endangered species is falling to abysmal low these days. Tiger conservation is top priority in all states. We did try to spot one in Chinnar (Periyar) wildlife sanctuary in Kerala that converges with Anamalai wildlife sanctuary in TN border – in fact you can drive from one into the other (with permit issued by Forest Dept). From Kerala side we went typically into the TN sanctuary but returned without spotting a tiger or elephant in daylight. (These are nocturnal creatures admittedly and shy away from glaring sunlight). (Night safaris are arranged – real night safaris into the wild not the zoo safaris wherein you could come head to head with an elephant herd crossing the road, blocking your SUV. Refused outright the jungle night safari/Chinnar night safari option for my son. Extremely risky but many do it. Over 75% success rate in spotting elephants, under 10% chance of spotting tiger.)

In Chinnar, also attempted a bit of trekking for a sight of wild elephants. We were asked to sign declaration forms wherein the govt said it took no responsibility whatsoever for your life in case you are to be mauled by elephant or tiger in the wild. Many foreign tourists and some brazen local ones (mostly youth) went in and opted to sleep on treetops etc in the hope of spotting the wild animals in their natural setting. We took a paid guide.

We had trekked up hardly 2 km in the mountains and I had started losing steam already so the men were getting anxious. At one point I spotted huge masses of elephant dung piled. I asked the guide about it. The guide came closer and examined the heap with the baton in his hand. He said the dung was warm and was not more than 10 minutes old. He asked us to be prepared to come face to face with a group of wild elephants. My son was all the more excited.

I asked the guide, what if the elephants did not like us and turned hostile. And he said without blinking his eye, ‘then run for your life, never look back’ That is when we decided we had had enough. Son was persisting to go on, he kept complaining going on trekking with ‘old people’ was such a foolish idea that he regretted very much – but I had my final word. Less than 1 km ahead, we could hear the elephants tearing down trees. We made our son do a u-turn at that exact spot and he kept  sulking all through the day for going trekking with us parents instead of friends. The cheek he had to suggest that we parents could go back and wait at the start point when he would get back with the guide later after elephant spotting!

I think I made the right decision, wild animal behaviour is unpredicable, but no blaming their primal instincts in natural settings. Never forget we are intruding upon their world, not the other way around.

Have come across a number of news reports, videos on elephant attacks. A young software engineer was stamped to death by a group of wild elephants at Banergatta national park. No wonder the govt safeguards its own position before allowing us anywhere to embark in the wild. We get into the sanctuaries at our own risk.

Similarly one hears stories of Bengal Tigers – Man Eaters in the Sundarbans.

Irrespective of whatever is said by wildlife experts or media, I have this intrinsic faith in animals – they will never harm you unless they feel threatened by you. In the case of Bengal Tigers of Sundarbans, it is possible that when poor villagers and tribals encroached upon the wild scrounging for a livelihood, the Bengal Tigers got a taste for human flesh. I can think of no other way to explain this macabre behaviour of the royal tiger.

Even in the recent Delhi zoo incident, the white tiger hauled the man, his victim, by neck AND DID NOT MAUL him as was widely reported in the media. This is precisely how any big cat would handle his/her prey or other living beings. Hauling by the neck is their signature. Did the white tiger ever try to eat the man who was under his  power completely?


Watched the video of Delhi Zoo incident in which the white tiger ‘Vijay’ (male, 7 years) reportedly ‘mauls’ the man who jumped into his enclosure to death. The details are fuzzy – i did not want to watch a clear video. Its too traumatic to watch.

But here is this video of the entire episode, i am attaching it to show what is wrong with humans and not what is wrong with the tiger.

From the video, you can see right away that it is not the the tiger’s fault at all . The tiger is ‘assessing’ the man who crossed over 3 barriers to fall into the beast’s enclosure for nearly 15 minutes (as reported).

The natural questions that come to our mind is,

1. where were the zoo officials. shows the typical official apathy in Indian govt departments.

2. why was not there tranquilizers handy to be administered, in case things were ever to get out of control (as it did that fateful day)

3. why the hell did the man jump into the enclosure (ofcourse now it is known he was a mentally imbalanced person).

If not for the teasing and shooing by the spectators, the tiger still might not have killed the man.

Latest Forensic Report on the case reads as follows as circulating in the social media presently:

“Latest News about that tiger incident from delhi zoo…. Forensic report came..Tiger was trying to Save that guy from stones thrown by those idiotic on lookers, that’s y he caught the neck of that guy and kept far from public. Unfortunately his teeth wound that guy… Tiger generally catch her kids on neck to save them from threat…Apart from his neck there were no wounds on his body. Tiger kids have an extra thick fur and skin on their neck so that it can be carried by the mother tiger.”

How quick most of us were to blame the tiger. After seizing the man by neck (thereby strangulating his jugular in a stroke), the tiger is seen hauling the man to its enclosure (to safe-keep?)  but it is by no means a man eater. The tiger ‘Vijay’ is reportedly ‘normal’ ever since.

Related links:

While my heart goes out to the young man’s parents and even if I am shocked  beyond words for the traumatic way in which Maqsood lost his life, I still stand by the tiger.

Tigers are not only our national animals, they also head the list of most endangered species of the world, facing total extinction in foreseeable future. Tiger conservation is top priority, top agenda of Indian government, with the policy mooted by PM Srimathi Indira Gandhi in ’70s. Ever since the tiger population has been registering a steady increase in India.

There are very few govt departments in India that remain incorruptible or least corrupt to speak of. One of them is our Forests/Wild Life department. Poaching nevertheless continues, it is proving to be impossible to completely arrest the illegal activity, but to some extent the count of wild life population in India – that of tigers, lions and elephants – has also been witnessing a quiet, trickling increase against all odds. Sandalwood tree and other valuable herbs of medicinal value are other smuggled/poached forest wealth. (Buy sandalwood legally – I do). Wildlife poaching is a criminal offence, non-bailable. Which is why some Bollywood actors are in serious trouble today with blackbuck poaching.

And who says animals cannot feel anything. I don’t have a pet at home, but our relatives have had. My uncle’s family buried all their dogs within their living room flooring. I grew up surrounded by relatives with pets, mostly dogs. My doc BIL was obsessed with his 2 doggies – one a german shepherd and another a pomeranian. Being a physician himself, he almost went into depression, when ‘Princy’ the german shepherd died. We Hindus think of all animals and creations like God. We think of monkeys as ‘Hanuman.’ We think of cows as ‘Lakshmi.’ We think of the dog as Lord Bhairava, the protective avatar of Lord Shiva. My BIL’s family performed a ‘Bhairava Homam’ in memory of the dogs they buried in their house compound. They have framed pictures of the doggies in their living, garlanded. To them the dogs were family, like kids.

Princy was barely a few weeks old when my son Shriraam was born. In the joint family, my son grew up loving and playing with Princy and Archie, the 2 dogs in the big house. Princy was such a shining beauty. Even today my sister’s family has 3 ferocious dogs – one german shepherd, one rotweiller and one doberman. My son and my nephews get along with them fine. But mostly the dogs are raised as vegetarians hahaha! India is the only nation in the world where we may raise even pitbulls to dobermans as vegetarians – on curd rice and roti and dal and subzi lol. None will believe me if i say this. But my sister’s family is now getting meat through someone for the dogs.

Sometime back I read this report, and believe me i am not at all surprised. Only those who believe animals are not equal living beings might think on contrary. With due respects to all living creatures, I think this is possible. (N0, I am not at all thinking about kinky sex).

My maternal feelings get kindled whenever I come across baby elephants – so much so that I feel like taking them into my arms, kiss them. The same is with little puppies, kitten … I think this is normal… scrubbing, bathing elephants is an exhilarating experience…. this is the closest we can get to elephants… like touching their very soul…

What a fascinating world is the world of wildlife… And how blessed India is for having elephants and tigers in our midst vying for precious space – not to forget the Asiatic lions! We were planning on Tanzania-Kenya tour this year but the e-bola virus has played the spoilsport. Would like to make it to Sri Lanka by year end or Jan, lets see.

I wish i could go on… but as usual my blog post has become a lengthy one. When will i learn to write short ones. My ‘Guru’ is to blame 🙂

Finishing with this closing statement:

A society’s maturity, coming of age, can be gauged with the way its citizens treat the poor, helpless living amid them. This is how i see culture and civilization. In fact this is the prime measuring yardstick to me when it comes to determining human nature/character. Any society that lacks respect or love for other living creatures be them animals or birds or plants or fish can only be barbaric. If you cannot equate the hunger and pain of a wild animal or any animal for that matter with that of a human child in similar misery, then something is wrong with the way you are brought up – in my opinion. I have seen dogs getting older, suffering from heart disease, rheumatic pain, cancer, excessive bleeding, abortion everything… The animal suffering, the animal pain is no less in any manner than human pain or trauma… the only difference between us humans and animals is that, we the sixth-sensed can argue our own cases, but poor animals cannot do that. Which is why some of us homosapiens need to be their advocates, promoting and championing the animal world’s just causes, interests and rights. Please love animals – treat them as equals, they are no less than humans, no inferior to humans – this is my request to one and all. How beautiful animals and birds make our Planet Earth. What will be the world like, without them ever…

Respect and Revere Wild Life!


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