So who killed this tiger by JCB? Yes, that seems to be the latest official way to crush our national animal - and our avowed commitment to protect it.
The video is brutally shocking: a tiger drunkenly tries to stagger away from the monstrous machine - a JCB - that is bearing down on him. He is, otherwise, a beautiful male in his prime. He is a tiger, the most powerful predator on earth.
So, he tries to save his life, take on, and attack the JCB, amid shouts from the crowd: dabao, dabao! (crush him, crush him!) His leap - a study in grace and power - becomes a lurch as he falls inches from the machine in a dazed, drunken stupor, owing to the tranquilisers pumped into him.
The bulldozer pins the tiger, allowing humans to move in and net him. It is said there was some life left, after the tiger had been tranquilised, squashed, trapped; and so he was dumped into a cage to be transported into a life of captivity at the Nainital Zoo (Uttarakhand).
He died en route. The official cause of the tiger’s death is still being worked on. But only the naïve and the foolish will dismiss the trigger of tranquilisers coupled with stress by a mob and bulldozers on the war path.
I ask again: Who killed the tiger? Would one lay the blame on the man behind the wheel, who physically performed this brutal deed? But, then, what about the decision makers at the helm, that allow for a bulldozer to crush India’s national animal?
The back story is tragic, and says monuments about the utter lack of priority, and our dismal failure in protecting our rivers, forests, tigers. It talks about the reckless rape and exploitation of our natural resources.
But first the basics: The tragedy occurred in Belpadao, the Terai (west) forest division, which abuts Corbett Tiger Reserve, on March 16. The tiger had killed two people. It fatally attacked a woman, Bhagwati Devi, and dragged her into the undergrowth. Villagers including her distraught relatives tried to drive the predator away and retrieve the body. In the melee, the tiger attacked and killed another person, her father-in-law, Lakhpat.
Something had to be done to control the situation. And the tiger.
I would be cautious in laying the blame squarely on the forest department here. With two people killed, the situation on the ground was naturally fraught, and tense. Explosive. The forest authorities, and staff, had to face the ire of a panicked, furious tiger, and a distressed, enraged crowd.
There are innumerable cases where mobs have vented their ire on the forest department when there is a confrontation with a wild animal. In 2011, when a caged leopard was burnt alive in a village in Kalagarh Tiger Reserve, the villagers reportedly poured kerosene on the forest staff lest they try to save the trapped, helpless animal. In many such situations, mobs have gheraoed hapless foresters, held them hostage till the animal is trapped, or killed.
Still, does that warrant calling in a bulldozer to control, scoop, or crush the tiger as the case may be?
Such brutal retaliation is increasingly becoming the norm. The same week saw a sloth bear gunned down in Banaskantha in Gujarat - 67 bullets were pumped into her via an AK-47. She had mauled and killed three men. Nothing one can say much in her defence, but she was a lactating mother.
All moms, across species, are Tiger Moms, and fiercely defend their cubs. The day after, on March 18 in Sariska Tiger Reserve, a leopard was beaten and chased into a cave by a 500 strong mob. It had killed a man.
The forest staff who tried to control the situation were pelted with stones and injured as well. The cave was barricaded with wood and set aflame. The leopard burnt to death.
What do such savagely violent ways of animal control speak of a nation that is the leading light of ahimsa, and is a global leader in conservation?
And even as the fire rages and engulfs most parts of India, the powers that be are sitting twiddling their thumbs, if not aggravating the conflict. The knee-jerk reaction to an issue that takes a huge toll on humans and wildlife, and has immense environmental, social and economic impact, has been to allow for easier culling of "problem animals" or those which are a "menace".
There is a no robust strategy to deal with conflict, and woeful lack of preparedness. We have failed to understand the nuance, and gravity of conflict. Nor have we invested in mitigating conflict - a trained, well-equipped conflict mitigation team of the forest department working with the district administration and police, a swift-response time, a robust and timely compensation/insurance scheme, and most importantly, a "code-of conduct" for people to safeguard themselves in such a situation.
|It is said there was some life left, after the tiger had been tranquilised, squashed, trapped; and so he was dumped into a cage to be transported to a life of captivity at the Nainital Zoo. He died en route.|
Worse, we are escalating conflict by the ecological pogrom unleashed - the rapid and extensive destruction of wild habitats and sanctuaries which is pushing wildlife into closer contact, and confrontation, with humans.
To get back to the Corbett and the Case of the Crushed Tiger, I urge you to look again at the video. It’s horrific but do channel some indignation and rage for the cause that has led to such a situation.
Urge the Prime Minister (I understand a petition is doing the rounds) not just to take action on this brutal killing, but to curb the mining that is killing the river Dabka, and the finest of tiger and elephant forests that it flows through.
The spot where the tragedy occurred is a mere 3-4 km away as the crow flies from India’s famous Corbett Tiger Reserve, and the adjoining Ramnagar forest division. The density of tigers here is as much as that of Corbett at about 15 tigers per 100sqkm.
Yet, less than 500 m downstream from where the tiger was crushed there is heavy, extensive mining of boulders, sand, gravel from the river Dabka - most of it illegal. Hundreds of trucks and tractors ply this fragile landscape, loaded with sand and boulders.
Such massive extraction has wreaked havoc on the ecology and the villages around - the river bank is being gouged, stripped bare, altering its course and flow, aquatic life and fisheries have declined, water tables collapsed, the constant blasting has dilapidated the surrounding houses and structures.
Migrant labour has flooded the region - and they use the forest to meet their needs of firewood and other minor forest produce. The incident occurred on a Thursday, which is a weekly break for mining. Reportedly, a number of people had entered the forest to collect, and stock, firewood when the tiger attacked and killed Bhagwati Devi.
Such rampant destruction and invasion of wild habitats increases human-wildlife inter-face, which can lead to tragic, fatal consequences.
The mining mafia here - as in most parts of the country - is powerful and vicious. Two years back, when a trainee woman Indian forest service officer Kalyani tried to crack down on mining in Dabka river, she and her team were attacked. The mafia operates with impunity, owing to powerful connections.
So much so, that word is that ill-gotten gains from the mining helped finance the recently held state elections. Here, a source informed that the forest department was under pressure from the quarrying lobby to call in the JCB to “clear the tiger quickly, as the panicked labour were threatening to abandon work".
There has been a long standing demand by conservationists to make Ramnagar, and parts of Terai forest division, a tiger reserve. As a member of the State Board for Wildlife of Uttarakhand in its last term, I personally spoke to many other authorities concerned about this.
I was told it was a futile effort - the vested mining interest would stymie any such move, the stakes were too high.
This region - the Corbett landscape - has the finest tiger and elephants in the world, having the greatest tiger density globally. Yet, the state has looked the other way, indeed been acquiescent, to the extensive mining across this landscape.
It has allowed the rape of the river, and the pillaging of the tiger forest, and in doing so has trampled the national animal it is mandated to protect.