The last of the tigers
In January 1951, as a young lad, I went on a trip to the Marble Rocks at Bhera Ghat, 22 kilometres West of Jabalpur. These white rocks, with their black and dark green volcanic seams, rise 30 metres on either side of the Narmada river. We went boating down the river which provided us with a breathtaking view on all sides. The approach to the river was a long stretch of dense jungle, and was called 'tiger country'.
We were told that one of my father's friends, Mr Gough, an Anglo Indian and keen hunter, had once been mauled by a tiger in these jungles. He escaped miraculously, but still bore the scars of the encounter. It was reliably recounted to us by other shikaris that, at the turn of the last century, there were at least 50,000 tigers all over the world, and that a major part of the tiger population was in India.
This year, in January, I was apprised by authoritative sources that there are at best 3,000 tigers left in the wild, most of them in India. Also, that if concerted efforts are not taken on a 'war footing', we may see the tiger disappearing altogether by 2025. The last tiger was seen in Iran around 1942. There are no tigers left today in Pakistan. The Siberian Tiger that has a shaggy white coat to combat the bitter cold and snow in Siberia is already endangered and at the point of extinction.
The species found in India and known to the rest of the world as the Royal Bengal Tiger, varies in size from 2.4 metres to 3.1 metres including the tail and its weight varies from 150 to 260 kilograms. The tiger's coat ranges from brownish-yellow to orange-red and is marked by black stripes. The fur on the throat, belly and insides of the legs is whitish. Today these tigers are only found in the rain forests of Thailand and the hot, dry thorn woods and river grasslands of Bangladesh and India. The Siberian tiger is found in the cold, snowy, spruce forests of Siberia.
According to a tiger statistical census carried out in the winter of 1998, all over the world, the breakdown of the 3,000 tigers is 200 Siberian tigers in Siberia, 20 tigers in South China, approximately 200 to 300 each in Thailand and Bangladesh and the remaining over 2,000 in India. The Tiger Reserves and National Parks with a population of at least 50 tigers and above are listed below. They account for over half the number. The remaining half are spread over the tall grasslands, mangrove swamps and marshes all over the country.
Concerned, dedicated individuals with the backing of the government and the World Wildlife Fund set up Project Tiger in 1973. A concerted effort is required by everyone all over the world to thwart the killing of this regal animals by poachers and hunters and save it so that future generations will be able to get a glimpse of this powerful big cat.
Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (West Bengal)
The Sunderbans, literally translated from Bengali to English means 'beautiful forests'. Located at the extreme southern part of the state, the biosphere reserve, a World Heritage Site, still preserves the natural habitat of over 300 Royal Bengal tigers, the biggest population of tigers anywhere in the world. To get there the route by train is from Calcutta (Sealdah station) to Canning (105 km) then by boat to Sajnekhali. By road, one reaches there from Calcutta to Basanti via Sonakhali.
Simlipal National Park (Orissa)
This 2,750-square-kilometre of majestic sal forest, interspersed with rosewood, champak and kadamba, is home to 100 Royal Bengal Tigers as well as leopards, wolves, elephants, chital, sambhar and gaur. One can reach there by train from Tatanagar or Balasore on the South Eastern Railway. By road one has to go from Baripada via Lulung.
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (Assam)
Extending 2,800 square kilometres, this sanctuary has 80 Royal Bengal Tigers. One goes there by train from Calcutta to Gauhati, getting off at Barpeta Road or by road to Manas.
Corbett National Park (Uttar Pradesh)
Spread over 500 square kilometres, of which 350 square kilometres are core reserve is India's first national park, its finest and its highest at altitudes ranging from 400 metres to 1,200 metres above sea level. Set up in 1936 due to the efforts of great hunter and later conservator, Jim Corbett, it was named 'Hailey National Park' after the governor of the United Provinces. On Independence the name was changed to 'Ramganga National Park' and finally to the present name of 'Corbett National Park'. It has approximately 100 Royal Bengal Tigers, as well as leopards and at least 20,000 deer.
Dudhwa National Park (Uttar Pradesh)
Located in 613 square kilometres of grassland, the nearest railway station is Malani on the North Eastern Railway metre gauge line connected with Lucknow and Moradabad. It is home to 50 Royal Bengal Tigers, leopards, fishing cats, the sloth bear, one-horned rhinoceros, sambhar and neelgai.
Kanha National Park (Madhya Pradesh)
Five hours drive from Jabalpur by car is the picturesque Kanha National Park, spreading over 1,945 square kilometres. The season is from January to mid-June. It has 100 Royal Bengal Tigers, leopards, wolves, jackals, wild boar and other animals.
Bandhavgarh National Park (Madhya Pradesh)
To reach the Bandhavgarh National Park, one has to detrain at Umaria on the Katni-Bilaspur railway line. The park is 105 square kilometres with a buffer zone of 437 square kilometres. This is home to 60 Royal Bengal Tigers.
Ranthambore National Park (Rajasthan)
Situated 10 kilometres east of Sawai Madhopur and spread over 410 square kilometres, the Ranthambore National Park boasts 50 Royal Bengal Tigers, leopards, sloth bears, jackal, sambhar and neelgai.
Chinar trees victims of neglect, greed
EVEN AS every government and environment lover cries out for the preservation of nature, the legendary chinar tree has fallen prey to gross neglect and greed in the Kashmir Valley.
The chinar cover has been dwindling at an alarming rate here, as scores of green trees are being felled every month. Recently, an over 100-year-old tree was chopped down under the pretext that it was dead.
More than 15,000 chinars have been cut down by individuals and state agencies during the last decade. Over 10,000 more have dried up, leaving nothing but haggard skeletons.
Today, almost 10,000 chinars face death as the custodians of roads have covered every available space around the tree with cobble and tar.
"This depletes the air and even water supply to the roots of trees", says an expert, adding that the plying of heavy vehicles so close to the trees also accelerates the drying process.
In rural areas, where the revenue department looks after the chinars, no effort is made to this end. In Srinagar, where the preservation and care of chinars is the duty of the Gardens and Parks Department, the situation is no better.
According to official sources, there were over 10,000 chinars in Srinagar in 1985. Today their number does not exceed 1,500. Extensive road development is responsible for the dwindling numbers, says a senior official of Gardens and Parks Department.