Friday, April 1, 2011

The Tigers the TigerMan

Tigers would surely mourn this one death. Ananda Banerjee remembers noted conservationist Fateh Singh Rathore, who passed away early this month.

A bout of unseasonal rain calmed the heat and dust of the tiger forest. “Cheetal will congregate in great numbers today,” boomed a voice under the Stetson, as we moved along the royal lakeside at Rajbagh, Ranthambhore National Park.

In the late 1980s, a wildlife documentary on tigers captured my imagination. Especially a sequence of a tiger hunting down a sambar deer on this very lake alongside the palace ruins. Also seen in the documentary was this very man nattily dressed with a Stetson driving his jeep around the park. These two images remained transfixed forever — the tiger named Genghis for its strength and prowess, and its guardian, Fateh Singh Rathore.

Never once in my wildest dream had I imagined that a day would come when I shall ride with him into the very heart of Ranthambhore. This was in the late 1990s when by a curious turn of events, after failing to become a medical practitioner as my parents had desired and a short career in advertising, I got involved in the work of counting tigers in my fantasy land.

The first time I went to meet Rathore at his home, I couldn’t recognise him for a good few seconds. So used to the image he conjured in the many documentaries and pictures that I mistook him for someone else when he sat in his garden relaxing in a white kurta and dhoti. What made him look different was his striking baldness, as the familiar Stetson was tucked away somewhere inside his house. But his beaming smile under the flowing silver moustache was a cue enough for the legend he was in picture and spirit.

Coming back to our jungle trip, we saw a number of cheetals grazing; and, we indulged in some photography. Those were the days of film cameras, as digital cameras were unheard off. ‘Fatji’, as he was lovingly called, was using Nikon F3. I had a borrowed FM2 of the same brand. As discussions turned towards the nuances of aperture and shutter speed, we were joined by other tourist jeeps where one particular gentleman let loose his bazooka (read long telephoto lens) and went berserk shooting with his automatic SLR. Immediately, Fatji sounded his displeasure: “Hum mehnat karke photo khichate hain, aur ishko dekho, phat-phat-phat-phat-phatttttt. Ye koi baat hui, ye to koi bhi kar sakta hai.”

Rathore was in his eccentric mood. Further down the forest track, he let loose again: “Yeh aur ek pagal hai”, commenting on the persistent call of the Common Hawk Cuckoo. “Brain fever, brain fever”, he shouted and abruptly asked his driver to pull up on the side. I dared to ask the reason and he replied pointing at the sides: “Maharani idhar hi hai, aur yahin se niklegi”. Such was his command of the forest and its famed inhabitants! He seemed to have a sixth sense and his uncanny ability to predict the location of the big cat was legendary.

Apart from the ‘brain fever’, there were no other calls and the forest remained silent. As there were no alarm calls, there were no tigers — at least none showed up at that moment. After waiting for a good half-an-hour, he finally gave up. And we drove on only to get a tyre of our jeep flattened near Malik Talab. Other tourist jeeps offered us help, but Rathore whisked them away nonchalantly. A troupe of hanuman langurs hopped around in front of us as if to inspect and he let loose a volley of unprintable superlatives only to laugh aloud at the very next moment. Such was his unpredictability.

The light was fading and it was time for us to head for the exit. But Fatji was adamant on revisiting the spot where we had ‘wasted’ more than 30 minutes looking for the maharani.

The bend where we waited seemed devoid of any activity, but on closer inspection we found fresh pugmarks going across the road and vanishing into the undergrowth. This was something I never expected. Even without spotting a tiger the experience was magical. Reverence was the only thing that came to my mind when after a long silence he said: “Maharani ki marzi darshan nahi dene ka.”

That afternoon no one had a single sighting at the tiger reserve and visitors irked him at the exit gate by asking if he got to see one. He let loose again: “Tiger, tiger, tiger. Tiger tumhara naukar hai kya. Jab marzi bulaoge to samne haziri dega… Jungle mein aur bhi to bahut kuch hai dekhne ke liye.” Then, instantly, he suggested the possible location where one might get a spotting the next morning.

With Rathore’s passing away, memories of that blissful afternoon flooded me. He was the ‘Tiger Guru’ and the ‘Tiger Man’ of India. His name is synonymous with Ranthambhore and countless account of his work has been documented in films and books. The legendary Jim Corbett had once commented: “The tiger is a large-hearted gentleman.” I think of the same for Fateh Singh Rathore. May his soul rest in peace.


1938: Fateh Singh Rathore is born in Choradia, a village in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan

1960: Rathore joins the Rajasthan Forest Service. One of his first jobs is organising tiger hunts during a visit by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1961

1971: He is posted as game warden in Ranthambhore

1973: Rathore creates a tiger sanctuary at Ranthambhore. When Rathore arrives at Ranthambhore, there are believed to be just three or four of the animals left

1980: Ranthambhore sanctuary is declared a national park

1981: He is ambushed, beaten unconscious and left for dead by villagers illegally grazing cattle in the reserve

1982: Indira Gandhi presents Rathore with the Project Tiger conservation award

1983: He is awarded an International Valour Award for bravery in the field

1988: He has been sacked as warden and transferred to an office job in Jaipur after remonstrating with a ‘nobleman’ caught shooting wild boar

1999: After his retirement, Rathore is appointed Honorary Wildlife Warden for Ranthambhore

2011: He is presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Wide Fund for Nature. He dies on March 1

Water threat: Billion-plus people to lack water in 2050: study

WASHINGTON (AFP) – More than one billion urban residents will face serious water shortages by 2050 as climate change worsens effects of urbanization, with Indian cities among the worst hit, a study said Monday.

The shortage threatens sanitation in some of the world's fastest-growing cities but also poses risks for wildlife if cities pump in water from outside, said the article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study found that under current urbanization trends, by mid-century some 993 million city dwellers will live with less than 100 liters (26 gallons) each day of water each -- roughly the amount that fills a personal bathtub -- which authors considered the daily minimum.

Adding on the impact of climate change, an additional 100 million people will lack what they need for drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing and toilet use.

"Don't take the numbers as destiny. They're a sign of a challenge," said lead author Rob McDonald of The Nature Conservancy, a private environmental group based near Washington.

"There are solutions to getting those billion people water. It's just a sign that a lot more investment is going to be needed, either in infrastructure or in water use efficiency," he said.

Currently, around 150 million people fall below the 100-liter threshold for daily water use. The average American has 376 liters delivered a day, although actual use varies widely depending on region, McDonald said.

But the world is undergoing an unprecedented urban shift as rural people in India, China and other growing nations flock to cities.

India's six biggest cities -- Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad -- are among those most affected by water shortages. The study forecast that 119 million people would face water shortages in 2050 in the Ganges River delta and plain alone.

With an annual monsoon, India does not lack water. But it struggles to preserve the water from the wet season to the dry season, McDonald said.

West Africa, which sees some of the world's heaviest rainfall, will also face water shortages in cities such as Lagos, Nigeria, and Cotonou in Benin, the study found.

The study warned of threats to ecosystems if developing nations take water from elsewhere. India's Western Ghats region, a potential source for thirsty cities, is home to nearly 300 fish species, 29 percent of which are found nowhere else, it said.

"If cities are essentially drinking rivers dry, that has really bad effects on the fish and the reptiles and everything else in the river," McDonald said.

Instead, the study recommended reforms to agriculture -- usually the top consumer of water -- and improved efficiency, as nearly half of the water in some poor countries is wasted due to leaks.

"There is a lot of potential for increase in water-use efficiency in the agriculture sector, or indeed in the residential sector, to solve most of this challenge," McDonald said.

The study said there would be a need for international funding to help poorer nations "to ensure that urban residents can enjoy their fundamental right to adequate drinking water."

UN-led talks last year on climate change agreed on practicalities to set up a global fund to assist poor nations most hit by climate change, with a target of 100 billion dollars a year starting in 2020.

Other cities forecast by the study to face a water crunch include Manila, Beijing, Lahore and Tehran.;_ylt=Aku4GsO43NQdAAHjw4if7beFOrgF;_ylu=X3oDMTNsMm42aHVnBGFzc2V0A2FmcC8yMDExMDMyOC9lbnZpcm9ubWVudGNsaW1hdGV3YXJtaW5nd2F0ZXJwb3B1bGF0aW9uaW5kaWEEcG9zAzEzBHNlYwN5bl9wYWdpbmF0ZV9zdW1tYXJ5X2xpc3QEc2xrA2JpbGxpb24tcGx1cw

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The right story behind our photograph - Jay writes

Clarity lies in the eyes of the beholder

A photograph may tell a thousand stories but let us be cautious while spinning them around maneaters, encroachers or co-existence

__by Jay Mazoomdaar

This Sunday, I woke up to a rare photograph. A friend of mine from Kolkata clicked it in Ranthambhore and posted on a social networking site. It frames a tiger walking within a few metres of a group of labourers, mostly women, who were being herded away by a forest guard to let the big cat pass by. The tiger looks unconcerned and the labourers are all smiles. My friend has graciously shared it for the readers.

A fine documentation of a not-so-rare phenomenon in most of our tiger forests where people spend long hours repairing roads etc without getting harmed, the photograph tells a reassuring story. Social network sites allow comments on posts and such a rare post deserved all the appreciation. But soon all hell broke loose.

In the last four days, almost 200 people have commented on the photo. Quite a few sensible or innocuous ones apart, the rest seem to be surprisingly polarised. One group blasted humans (or labourers, in this case) for encroaching upon the tiger’s territory. The other hailed the tiger as an apostle of non-violence. Then, somewhere around the 165th mark in the comment queue, came this poser: “WOW! But still all news papers (sic) are full of Men N (sic) Animal Conflicts (sic) don’t understand why?”

Allowing the question some benefit of doubt (could it possibly be sarcastic?), I felt it brought out the duality inherent in most truths.

Yes, tigers, or other carnivores for that matter, do not consider us food. Our great, great forefathers were very much on their menu just like the primates still are in the wild. But carnivores have learnt to respect (and fear) us over time as able adversaries. So they generally follow a no-risk policy and maintain a respectable distance from groups of people, like they do from, say, an elephant herd or a pack of dholes.

But carnivores do defend themselves aggressively if they feel disturbed or threatened. They are nature’s most efficient killers. A defensive slap from a tiger can kill; it is hardly any consolation that the tiger is unlikely to eat its victim in such cases.

Moreover, I (and many others) have records of tigers that usually avoid elephants or dholes but opportunistically kill lonely calves or defend kills against a smaller pack. So, nothing prevents an otherwise respectful carnivore from making an occasional human kill if the victim seems suitably lonely and defenceless. The fact that they usually do not should not be taken as an underwriting of sorts.

Within this limited scope, let me not get into the more complex issues of chronic conflict situations that we witness in places like Sunderbans and Tadoba. Suffice to say that a solitary, unarmed human is still the easiest prey for any large carnivore and they can anyway kill people in self-defence.

So it is dangerous to create an impression of the tiger (or any large carnivore) that may induce a false sense of safety. All wild creatures are gentlemanly but they are still wild. We take them for granted only at our own peril.

Now, were those people in the photograph taking the tiger for granted, or encroaching upon its territory? Probably not. The group was there to do necessary forest work. They were being watched over by a forest guard. In the photograph, they do not seem to be in panic and are rather orderly. My friend, the photographer, confirmed that the face-off did not last long. The workers kept walking away quietly, the tiger smelt their lunch boxes wrapped in clothes, urinated to emphasize its territory and disappeared. The smiles in the frame also convey a not-so-unpleasant, minor surprise. That is how life is and should be inside a forest.

But what about the larger issue of encroachment? Of course, tigers prefer inviolate breeding areas. But even after all core forests are freed of human settlements, tigers will keep moving in the peripheral forests where they will have to share space with people. In fact, large carnivores have been historically sharing space with people all over India and the quantum of recorded conflict does not really seem to be proportionate to the numbers on both sides.

We must remove the remaining people from core areas but no conservation effort can succeed anywhere unless large carnivores and people can share space without major conflict in fringe forests, buffers and corridors. With forests shrinking and our population booming, the scenario does not look too good these days. There are so many reports of conflict because people are no longer ready to do their bit for a possible, largely event-free co-existence.

Yes, the odd accident will still happen but adequate precaution can bring down the count significantly. We do not cross highways blindfolded or let infants venture out on their own. We do not grudge these precautions because we benefit from the road and it is part of our life. Similarly, if and when we agree that conservation benefits us, we will have to accept the presence of carnivores as a way of life in fringe forests around our reserves where we have no choice but to share space.

This frame does not tell us that tigers are “friends of men”. No wild tiger ever made that claim. No, this frame does not tell us that only “private space” can secure the tiger. Conservation demands that tigers roam free and we may need to claim land from the seas to settle people if we want to make all the places tigers may roam “private”.

If tigers breed happily in inviolate forests, we will have to share space with some tigers around those forests where we are not encroachers or the tigers stray. This frame tells us that mutual respect (and precautions) can make that co-existence possible.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hydel project to choke Dooars!

Hydel project shadow on Dooars; Sankosh-Teesta Canal May Wreak Havoc On Forests

The Union government is reportedly planning a mega hydroelectric project on the Sankosh river in Bhutan that experts feel may lead to massive loss of greenery and wreak havoc on the biodiversity of the Dooars.
The mammoth Sankosh Multipurpose Project (SMP) is the biggest such project in Bhutan and when complete, will generate 4,060 MW of electricity. According to the detailed project report prepared by the Central Water Commission (CWC) of India, the project will comprise two dams to feed a 141 km canal, 128 km of which would be inside India. It would cut through Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and several other small forest tracts. The canal would connect the Sankosh in the east with the Teesta in the West.
The power generated would feed the entire northeast and reach as far as Meerut in UP. The canal would also irrigate fields and supply drinking water to parts of Bengal.
But environment experts feel that the project would take a heavy toll on the jungles of Dooars. Excavating the canal would destroy at least 450 sq km of forest land, of which over 100 sq km would be within core areas. The region has some of India’s most biodiverse forests: Jaldapara is one of India’s last reserves of the onehorned rhino, while Buxa is the only habitat of tigers in Bengal apart from Sunderbans.
“BTR houses Bengal tigers and nothing can be allowed to affect their natural habitat. The project will have a major impact on the ecosystem of the forest and the canal that they are planning will prove catastrophic for the wildlife here,” said R P Saini, the field director of BTR.
“This will have a direct impact on the elephant corridor as well. The railway tracks connecting Alipurduar to NJP have already affected the corridor from Sankosh to Teesta. Ifthe canal is dug, elephants will be bound to use the railway track to travel and it will further increase the possibility of elephant deaths,” said Raja Raut, honorary Wild Life Warden, who is also the secretary of Jalpaiguri Science and Nature Club.
Though the DPR by CWC was first handed over to the Bhutan government in December 1997, it did not get cleared due to protests. Now, the Union government wants to revive it after receiving a request from Bhutan. The agency that has been allotted the project is supposed to submit a revised DPR within this year.
“Once the dams are built, water supply to the Sankosh and the other streams will be drastically reduced. The downstream of Sankosh, which is one of the lifelines of BTR, will be greatly affected,” admitted a CWC official. He added that the work for the revised DPR had been completed in Bhutan but the work for the Indian portion was yet to start. CWC chief engineer K K Saha said, “We know the project had been planned a few years back, but there’s no news yet of it being revived.”
According to Animesh Basu, the co-coordinator of Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation, joining Sankosh with Teesta was an absurd idea. “The focus across the country is on saving tigers. If this project is implemented, it will finish off the possibility of reviving BTR as a tiger habitat,” he said.
State forest minister Ananta Roy said, “We will not allow any project that may harm the fragile biodiversity of Dooars. If the project is implemented in Bhutan, we’ll have nothing to say. But we’ll not let anyone destroy Bengal’s forests.”

Sankosh Multipurpose Project will comprise two dams to feed a 141 km canal, 128 km of which would be inside India. It will generate 4,060 MW of electricity and would feed the northeast and reach as
far as Meerut in UP. The canal would connect the Sankosh in the east with the Teesta in the west and also irrigate fields and supply drinking water to parts of Bengal.

It would cut through Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and several other small forest tracts.

Excavating the canal would destroy at least 450 sq km of forest land, of which over 100 sq km would be within core areas, say experts. It may have a severe impact on the elephant corridor.

_by TOI

Pinak Priya Bhattacharya | TNN

Monday, June 14, 2010

Radio-collared Sundarban Tiger moves into Bangladesh

A radio-collared Tiger in the Sundarbans has reportedly crossed over into Bangladesh, forest officials have found. A radio collar worth around Rs 6-7 lakh was placed around the neck of the Tiger on May 21.

“This once again confirms that wild animals do not understand political boundaries and often move across the international border,” said Sundarban Biosphere Reserve (SBR) director Pradip Vyas. Significantly, 60% of the Sundarbans falls in Bangladesh while 40% is in India.

Sources said this is one of the reasons why Union Environment and Forests minister Jairam Ramesh has taken up the India-Bangladesh joint initiative on the Sundarbans. Tiger conservation has to be done jointly, said senior forest officials. Interestingly, the forest officials are still receiving signals from the collar and have located it somewhere in the middle of Talpatty island in Bangladesh.

The Tiger had entered into Malmelia village in North 24-Parganas and was eventually trapped in the Arbeshi jungle on May 21. It was tranquillized and radio-collared before being released in the Katuajhuri forest of the Sundarbans. The radio collar signals revealed that on the first two days, it traveled only 6-7 km. But on the third day, the Tiger traveled more than double that distance.

The signals show that a Tiger crosses its command area and moves into new territory at will, even if there is enough prey. The forest department found that there was enough prey in the Katuajhuri jungle and forest guards, who examined the terrain, found carcasses of animals devoured by the Tiger. “So, we were a bit surprised when the Tiger suddenly started moving from south to east, towards Bangladesh. This hints that a Tiger can enter due to reasons other than the lack of prey base,” an official reports.

The Tiger started closing in on Talpatty. Finally, two days ago, it moved into the Bangladesh Sundarbans.

The officials are keeping a close watch on the movements of the Tiger with the help of signals from the collar. In recent times, a Tiger and a Tigress, which had entered into Shamsernagar, were also found to have entered Indian territory from Bangladesh.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sanctuary Asia & Bengal Tiger Line has been jointly implementing a Bengal Tiger Bachaao campaign in West Bengal. To win over local communities, together with the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, we are organizing a daylong football tournament -BAGH'er jonno KHELUN! at Debipur village, in the Gurguria / Kultoli area (also near Deulbari) on Sunday June 13, 2010.

This particular venue has significance, as it is adjacent to the embankment forest area where a Tigress had entered in January this year and had kept itself confined in the mangrove patch for almost 7 days before the foresters were able to rescue the animal with support from the locals.

To the best of our knowledge, something like this is being done for the very first time with the Tiger as the pivot. The tournament is sure to get great support with the World Cup fever that will soon take the nation by storm. The fact that 2010 has been declared as the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations makes it all the more important for us to motivate young people to work together to protect the incredible biodiversity of the Sundarbans.

The prime objective is to create a platform through which the South 24 Parganas Forest Division under the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve can build a strong and effective support base for Tiger conservation and this is an attempt to help them achieve this goal.

Today a press meet was held at Kolkata's Outram Club this afterneen to announce the event & unveil the set of 8 team jerseys.

Actor Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, former national footballer Goutam Sarkar, Bengal's 1st Mt.Everest climber-duo Basanta Singha Roy & Debasish Biswas were there to unveil the jerseys.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Elephant run over by train at North Bengal

Death of animals, particularly Elephants have now become a common thing in North Bengal. Many requests made to authorities have failed miserably to change things in a positive & humane direction.

Report of a latest incident :

Two days after a female elephant died after being hit by a speeding train at Banerhat in the Dooars region of Jalpaiguri district, a sub-adult female elephant was run over by a special train carrying BSF jawans from J&K to Guwahati in the early hours 2.10 am of Thursday.

The accident occurred on the NJP-Alipurduar route between Kalchini and Garopara near Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR). The elephant was dragged around 70 m after being hit by the train.

"Even though elephants generally move after sunset, the railways has increased train traffic on this track during that period. There is another route running parallel to this one. It passes through Falakata and Jalpaiguri. The railways should lay more lines on that route and immediately shift trains there so as to avoid such accidents," said R P Saini, field director, BTR.

The forest department has lodged an FIR against the railways at Kalchini police station. When the railways had decided to convert the tracks from Siliguri to Alipurduar through the forests of Dooars, WWF had filed a case in the Calcutta high court. The court had given permission for gauge conversion on the condition that the railways followed certain norms to ensure that no harm was caused to animals. Animal lovers, however, allege that the directives are hardly followed in the region.