With the recent focus on man-eaters killing people in northern India; the prefix "man-eater" has raised his ugly head once again. Amid the news of about 10 killings in 50 days, the age-old assumptions and the negative propaganda against tigers have started grabbing headlines in print and electronic media.
Tigers have been at the receiving end for a long time. It has been generally accepted that the big cats are ravenous monsters, full of bloodlust, waiting their appointed time to become man-eaters, and exterminating them is the order of the day. By propagating this cult of man-eaters, human beings have expressed their ignorance and, in the process, murdered and maimed the tiger for not obeying man-made laws.
Going back in history; killing of humans by the Sabre Tooth, as the pre-historic tiger was called, had been a co-existential hazard, since the beginning of recorded time. Originally humans were prey species. But with man having evolved socially, habitat requirements of the two species separated. With it the evolution of the tiger species to its present-day name of Panthera Tigris began. The result was humans ceased to be a natural prey for him, as they took to walking erect and moving in groups. With the advent of weapons and humans mastering the art of forceful living, the tigers moved back further into the jungles. Looking at history in times closer to ours; the arrival of Englishmen to our land brought its own share of complications. The Englishmen who were posted here to the subcontinent by "superiors in England" brought with them, the fear of being eaten alive by one of these super predators. Hence, the tigers were sought out of their hiding places deep in the forests and exterminated in large numbers by these humans. Perhaps the tiger’s sheer magnificence, his power, his beauty and the mystery of his life were threatening to them.
In their country, they had never seen an animal of so much grace, elegance and brutal strength. A country which had seen peaceful co-existence for centuries between the big cats and humans was awakening to the sounds of organised shikar and blazing guns. Alongside the British was the Indian royal brigade and the rich and famous all seeking to inflate their deflated egos.
In the late 1930s, the man-eating adventures were made famous by Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson and the writers did the big cats a disservice by emphasising the savagery of a hard-pressed animal. They put forward some views in their story books and we placed those theories and findings in a conclusive evidence list, without going into the details of the thought process and the factors governing those living in those times.
Now if we presume that the gentlemen were experienced shikaris and through their experience brought forward some facts asserting the general behaviour of the big cats, I would like to bring the perspective to a present-day realistic context. I assume we have all read Boyle's Law and Charle's Law in physics; now to explain my point in general wherein as per Boyle's Law, "Pressure is inversely proportional to volume of a given mass of gas" and as per Charle’s Law, "Volume is directly proportional to temperature of a given mass of gas". The important part is that the relationship is derived if temperature is kept at constant in the first case and pressure is kept constant in the second case. By merely implying what Jim Corbett had said or derived from his experience is inconsequential if the constants have changed in the last 80-90 years.
Constants in this case would be the pressure exerted with the rise in human population around tiger habitats. Resultantly, the constants have changed.
There was a time when humans would walk on foot and the distance they covered was minimalistic but today motorcycles and the other means of transport are in abundance with the population bordering these tiger habitat areas. Hence human spread, coupled with noise pollution and habitat destruction, are the new emerging variables which are now a part of the equation.
With the decreasing habitat and a shortage in the prey species, temperamental changes have been noticed in the population of the dominant species. The significant increase in the stress levels of these animals is a noticeable reason for them becoming more violent and temperamental. Hence when a carnivore is deprived of his natural prey, it will turn to what is available. When intense hunger assails a tiger, fortified by the compulsion to feed its young ones, it can turn to humans as prey.
Blanking out the old myth, that an aged tiger would seek a human for an easy kill, 'Billy' Arjan Singh had said, "If that were so, then we would have a run of aged tigers eking out their terminal years on the diet of human flesh. On the contrary, old tigers fade into oblivion, their waning powers unable to subdue normal prey and starve themselves to death. Their mortal remains rest for a short while in the dense undergrowth of their habitat until covered in the leaf mould of the trees that sheltered them. They then disappear forever into the forest from where they once came from."
Fields around the forest are a witness to the harsh realities of the life of a farmer, wherein terror stalks, as he risks his life to feed and clothe his family. Inside his field are the cubs of a tigress driven out of her natural home by excessive human intrusion. She gives birth in his ripening crop; seeking temporary seclusion in an artificial habitat; her milk drying because the crop protection firearms have slaughtered her prey animals, her cubs are starving. The farmer sets a portion of the field closer to the tigress on fire; as the flames rise so do the cries of the helpless cubs; eventually the tigresses’ cubs are engulfed by the fire. Both species need a measure of sympathy, one gets it as the human consigns the tiger’s future to fire and then when the tiger fights for its right man signifies it as man-eater and orders its elimination. Finally, not forgetting the role of the forest department in this. If such rampant corruption would not be the norm in their ranks from top to bottom we would well have seen a different picture. What of the rangers to the low- rung forest officials deriving benefits from the people living on the periphery of the forest in lieu of some free milk, free food, free service etc.? What about the top-rung officials who are busy attending to whims and fancies of the ministers and bureaucrats and their families when they visit these national parks? Not to forget all the illegal poaching, felling and smuggling of wood going on in the forest wherein the forest and wildlife officials derive direct benefits from. There is nil transparency in the working of the forest and wildlife departments. What about the human pressure and the resultant decrease in forest cover in the forested corridors which tigers use to cross from one jungle to another?
What about the fact that although forests are still a state subject (although they are on the concurrent list) but the fact is that the state government will not resist the pressure of their voting public? (For to the general public, tigers are a potential danger to their live and livestock). What about the petty state politics which is giving tiger the bad name for the state government is not interested in "saving the tiger" as they cannot go around asking for votes in the election by saying that ‘we have saved the tiger...please vote for us’?
What about all the villages which are inside the National Parks; which were restricted to a few families but today with the rampant increase in population these numbers have increased from a few hundred to a few thousand? What about the pressure exerted by the increase in the number of the livestock of these villagers living inside and on the periphery of the forest? Please, for god's sake just don't blame the poor animal. There is a need for a much better understanding of the behavioural patterns of the tiger and giving them the necessary space for conducting their lives their way. Otherwise they will be labelled as murderers and exterminated.
— The author has written the biography of the famous conservationist and ‘Tigerman of India’, Billy Arjan Singh, titled Tiger of Dudhwa