Posts Tagged 'Tiger'

Vanishing Species – The Tiger

An Article by Mohan Pai

(This article was written over a year ago (Feb, 2008, immediately after the new Tiger census was released)

 Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
– William Blake
The Tiger is going …
and it is a crying shame !

 

2,200 tigers lost in the last 7 years

India has lost 2,200 or more than 60 per cent of its tigers in the last seven years says the latest Tiger Census just released.
The report which did not take the tiger population from the Sunderbans (West Bengal) and Indravati ( Chhattisgarh) into account, has put the total number of tigers in the country at 1,411. The last tiger census carried out in 2001-02 had pegged the total count at 3,642.
Poaching appears to be the main cause for the big cats vanishing in large numbers. Habitat shrinkage and loss of forest cover are the other two factors responsible for the dwindling count in some areas.
Madhya Pradesh has witnesses a massive loss – from 710 animals in 2001-02 to 300 animals in the 2008 census. Orissa and Assam are the other two big losers where the count has plummeted from 173 to just 45 and from 354 to mere 70, respectively. Karnataka has lost 111 tigers and Andhra Pradesh 97.

The Project Tiger initiated way back in 1973, it now appears, has turned out to be an utter and dismal failure. Government’s apathy to the problem in recent years is also an indirect cause for the depletion of tiger population.
The population of tigers is now at a critically low level and the species is in imminent danger of extinction. In animal population, the tempo of decline accelerates after a gradual fall to a low level; once the local population of a species is much reduced its ability to recoup deteriorates progressively, and with the fall in numbers often the factors of depletion gain lethal potency.
There have been a number of crusaders fighting for the cause of the Tiger for several decades now and prominent among them are:
1. Billy Arjan Singh, India’s well-known conservationist who single-handedly carved out the Dudhwa National Park, a forest sanctuary near Nepalese border. He is known for having reared and returned a Tigress ‘Tara’ and two leopards to the wild. His book ‘Tiger Haven’ is a chronicle of his conservation efforts.
2. Fateh Singh Rathore, the uninihibited Rajput who cheerfully risked his life defending the jungles in his charge.
3. Valmik Thgapar, who began as Fateh’s desciple. Since 1976 he has worked with tigers documenting their natural history and campaigning for their preservation. He has written numerous books and article’s on tigers.
4. Ullas Karanth, India’s finest field biologist and the tiger’s most persistent and vocal advocate. He has written two books: ‘The Way of the Tiger’ and ‘A view from the Machan.
5. Bitu Sahagal, editor of Sanctuary Asia, has promoted the cause of Saving the Tiger, now for several decades.

The legendary crusader Billy Arjan Singh with Tara, his controversial pet tigress, at Dudhva.

Excerpts from Chapter 14 of my book “The Western Ghats” published in 2005

Project Tiger
It is believed that there were more than 40,000 tigers in India some 80 years ago. Habitat destruction, rampant poaching and hunting brought about a sharp decline in their numbers. The National census of tigers in 1972 recorded the existence of only 1827 animals.
Considering the alarming endangered status of this majestic animal, the Government of India with support of WWF launched a scheme to protect the tiger called “Project Tiger” with nine sanctuaries declared as tiger reserves.
More tiger reserves were added in due course of time and today there are 28 national parks/sanctuaries under Project Tiger.
The main objective of Project Tiger was: “To ensure maintenance of a viable population of tiger in India, and to preserve, for all time, areas of biological importance as a national heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people”.
The then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, a strong supporter of the Project, and of conservation in general observed, “The tiger cannot be preserved in isolation. It is the apex of a large and complex biotope. Its habitat, threatened by human intrusion, forestry and cattle grazing, must first be made inviolate”.
Project Tiger is a holistic conservation programme. The tiger cannot be saved in isolation. Saving the tiger involves the maintenance of a viable population of its prey species – the herbivore animals. For the herbivores to survive it has to be ensured that the vegetation of the forests is rich and varied. Thus saving tiger means saving an entire ecosystem.

The project is administered jointly by the wildlife departments of both the states and the centre. Project tiger, initiated in 1973, is one of the most comprehensive conservation efforts ever launched. At the apex of a complete biota, the tiger can be saved, not in isolation, but by making its habitat sacrosanct. Populations of rhinoceros, elephant, swamp deer, gaur and several other species have been preserved in this way.

Excerpts from Chapter 13 of my book “The Western Ghats” published in 2005

Natural Extinction of Species

Despite, the seemingly complex and stable nature of ecosystems, a large number of animals which roamed the earth in early geological periods have become extinct. Extinction is a natural phenomena in the evolution of animals. Certain species disappear gradually as they are unable to withstand the competition from those that are better adapted. Sometimes a whole group of animals have become extinct as had happened with dinosaurs at the end of Cretaceous period, some 70 million years ago. Many mammals like mammoths and mastodons have also become extinct. Countless other forms of animals and plants have flourished and disappeared. We know about them from fossil records preserved in the crust of the earth. Extinction is irreversible. This has been part of the evolutionary process which has produced more advanced forms of life – a process that has occurred over a vast span of time over millions of years. The greatest contribution of Charles Darwin, who propounded the Theory of Evolution, in his logical explanation for evolutionary changes and appearance of new form of life – natural selection – the success of those organisms that are capable of adapting to the environment, to survive and reproduce.
Extinction of species has taken place over millions of years, long before the advent of man. Primitive man lived in harmony with nature and did not cause the extinction of animal species. However, the spread of civilization across the world and the progressive exploitation of Nature have had an adverse impact on wildlife. Hunting for animals, alteration of the environment, habitat destruction, pollution of the land, air and water, the human population explosion – all these have been responsible for the extinction of animal species in recent times. Since the 17th Century about 120 mammals and 150 birds have become extinct. The rate of extinction due to human interference has accelerated since the dawn of industrial age. In India, the Cheetah, the lesser one-horned rhinoceros, the pink- headed duck and the mountain quail have become extinct in the last one century. Many mammals and birds have become rare and endangered and many a natural range diminished in size with increasing deforestation, often confining the animals to small territories.

 

Vanishing Species – The White Tiger

 

An Article by Mohan Pai

The White Tiger

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Pic by Mohan Pai

White Tigers continue to bring thousands of fascinated visitors to zoos across the world. But wildlife biologists are against breeding white tigers because they have no conservation value and feel that freaks should not be allowed.

White tigers are not albinos as thought once, though there are records of albinos among tigers. In 1922, two were shot in Cooch Behar and the pink eyes confirmed them as true albinos. In the white tigers, the black stripes are clearly visible and the eyes are blue, unlike in an albino. When a male and female tiger carrying mutant recessive gene mate, then white cubs are born. This is how two normal coloured orange tigers could bring forth a white offspring.It was through the royal family of Rewa (MP) that white tigers received notice at the national and international level. In 1951, while on a shoot, the royal party saw a tigress with four cubs, one of whom was white. The mother was shot and the white cub, a male, trapped. He was named Mohan and housed in Govindgarh, an unused guest house near Rewa. When Mohan grew up into an adult, he mated with a normal tigeress and produced three litters, all of normal (orange) colouring. A few years later, Mohan mated with one of these cubs and four white cubs were born and they in turn began multiplying. This was the beginning of the breeding of white tigers.From the Rewa white tigers fifty-eight litters were raised, out of which 114 cubs were white and fifty-six of normal colour. Mohan, the sire of all these litters, died in 1970 at the age of twenty and lies buried at Govingarh. The lineage of most of the white tigers in the various zoos in India and across the world, can be traced to Mohan.

Currently, several hundred white tigers are in captivity worldwide with about 100 of them in India, and their numbers are on the increase. The modern population includes both pure Bengals and hybrid Bengal–Siberians, but it is unclear whether the recessive gene for white came only from Bengals, or from any of the Siberian ancestors as well.The unusual coloration of white tigers has made them popular in zoos and entertainment that showcases exotic animals. The magicians Siegfried & Roy are famous for having bred and trained white tigers for their performances, referring to them as “royal white tigers” perhaps from the white tiger’s association with the Maharaja of Rewa.

White Tigers In The Wild

An article appeared in the Miscellaneous Notes of the Journal Of The Bombay Natural History Society on Nov. 15, 1909 which reported that a white tigress was shot in the Mulin Sub-Division Forest of the Dhenkanal State in Orissa. The report originally appeared in the Indian Forester in May 1909, and was made by Mr. Bavis Singh, Forest Officer. The ground colour of the white tigress was described as pure white and the stripes as deep reddish black. It was shot over a buffalo kill and “was in good condition not showing any signs of disease.” Col. F.T. Pollock wrote in Wild Sports of Burma and Assam, “Occasionally white tigers are met with. I saw a magnificent skin of one at Edwin Wards in Wimpole Street, and Mr. Shadwall, Assistant Commissioner in Cossyah and Jynteah hills, also has two skins quite white.” Mr. Lydekker wrote in Game Animals of India (1907) about five more white tiger skins: “A white tiger was exhibited alive at Exeter Change about 1820; a second was killed in Poona about 1892; in March 1899 a white tiger was shot in Upper Assam and the skin sent to Calcutta, where a fourth specimen was received about the same time. The Maharaja of Kuch-Behar also possesses a white tiger-skin.” (The white tiger exhibited at Exeter Change in London in 1820 was the first white tiger in Europe.)S.H. Prater wrote in The book of Indian Animals (1948) that “White or partially white tigers are not uncommon in some of the dry open jungles of central India.” It is a myth that white tigers did not thrive in the wild. India planned to reintroduce captive-bred white tigers to the wild to a special reserve near Rewa. In the wild white tigers reproduced and bred white for generations. A.A. Dunbar wrote in Wild Animals Of Central India (1923) that “White tigers occasionally occur. There is a regular breed of these animals in the neighborhood of Amarkantak at the junction of the Rewa state and the Mandla and Bilaspur districts. When I was last in Mandla in 1919, a white tigress and two three parts grown white cubs existed. In 1915 a male was trapped by the Rewa state and confined. There is ample evidence that white tigers survived as adults in the wild. Jim Corbett filmed a white tigress in the wild which had two orange cubs. This film footage was used in the 1984 National Geographic movie Man Eaters Of India, which is based on Jim Corbett’s 1957 book by the same title. This is further proof that white tigers survived and reproduced in the wild. The website of the Bandhavgarh National Park, in the former princely state of Rewa, in Madhya Pradesh, features pictures of white tigers, and states “The forests of Bandhavgarh are the white tiger jungles of yesteryears.” Today there are 46 to 52 orange tigers living in Bandhavgarh, the largest population of tigers in any national park in India.

White Tigers – A Big Attraction

The first white tiger to leave India was Mohini, sired by Mohan Of Rewa.Mohini was bought by the German-American billionaire John Kluge for $10,000, for the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, as a gift to the children of America, in 1960. White tigers began receiving world-wide attention. A few years later, Dalip, a white tiger from Delhi zoo was exhibited at the Expo-70 at Osaka and later at Budapest. At both the exhibitions, he was a major draw. In India quite a few zoos began breeding white tigers and of these, the zoo at Delhi has been the most successful.

The story of white tigers took a dramatic turn in 1980. At Nandankanan Zoological Park in Orissa, a pair of normal coloured tigers gave birth to a litter of three white cubs, a textbook example of the recessive mutant gene. This pair at Nandankanan went to produce more white cubs.

Mutant should not be bred

In the 1980s, wildlife biologists were making great strides in research and they did not approve of breeding white tigers. There argument was simple – a mutant should not be bred. Their stand was vindicated data from all the zoos breeding white tigers. It was clear, they argued, that white tigers are not as healthy as their normal coloured counterpart and they are prone to diseases as their immunological system is weak. They need double doses of vaccine and often have congenital defects. Moreover, competition among the zoos to breed white tigers resulted in much inbreeding and the future generations of white tigers would be even more problem ridden.
In fact the recent trend in the zoological parks of the United States, where there are fifty white tigers, is to phase them out.
Ullas Karanth, wildlife biologist at Mysore, also takes a dim view of the proceedings. He says that white tigers have no conservation value and that freaks should not be allowed to multiply. If this viewpoint is taken seriously the white tiger era may come to an end in a few decades.

 

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Pic by Mohan Pai

References:The Dance of the Saurus (Chapter 31) by Theodore Baskaran, Wikipedia.

You can also access my blogs on Sulekha:
http://mohanpai.sulekha.com/blog/posts/pageno-1.htm


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