Tiger in the Woods

As you would have been doubtless aware, a tiger, which was on the prowl in the Doddabeta forest area near Ooty, was shot dead in an armed operation at night, which naturally made shooting virtually impossible, thereby putting the whole operation under enormous risk, especially that of the media that had to eventually make do with the visuals of the beast after it was killed. As far as the real shooting went, darkness or sunlight, with a bunch of men armed with Kalashnikovs pumping bullets at it, the odds of the unfortunate tiger surviving were technically lower than Suresh Raina coming through an over of short-pitched stuff.

The forest officials were later quoted as saying that the tiger had to be killed because it had started attacking humans, and wild life conservationists say tigers target humans whenever ‘they (tigers) lose their instinctive fear of people’. I think this works slightly differently in human beings. For instance, back in our school days, we used to attack stray dogs in the street whenever we could instinctively reach for the nearest lying stone. (Most women, on the other hand, whenever they see a spider  — a living thing that could be hounded to pulp with a small wad of papers —- reflexively reach for their husbands, who have to take the cue and beat the living daylights out of the hapless thing. Also, hell hath no fury like a woman who has spotted a cockroach).

Coming back to tigers, the message to be given to young impressionable tigers that might possibly be reading this is: If you are not afraid of us, we have no other option but to kill you. But if you stay afraid, you basically make yourself a sitting duck for our poachers. So, as a tiger, the best option for you is to emigrate to Mars and hope that there are no human lives there.

No seriously, all creatures in the world have a designated role to play in our ecosystem — this rule, of course, doesn’t apply to Suhel Seth whose purpose in life is unknown to mankind — and the tiger’s is to show up ideally for us to take sharp pictures, whenever people go on jungle safaris.

The problem is these days it never does. At least it doesn’t whenever my family goes on such trips. The last time we went on a trip to the forests of Bandhipur, we kept our eyes fully peeled for sighting wild animals, and we were fully rewarded for our efforts in the form of many signboards helpfully informing us that we were in a jungle area full of wild animals. At one stretch, we thought we heard sounds that were suspiciously close to some wild animal’s. But upon closer inspection, much to our horror, it turned to be much worse: It was from a group of drunken students from Kerala.

Yet, a jungle safari, on specialised tough-terrain vehicles inside the bushy depths of untamed forests, is the best way to experience wildlife, even though in terms of adrenaline-pumping action it is decidedly second only to a ride on share autos in Chennai.

For those of you interested in knowing what happens on a jungle safari, this is it: You wear your trekking attire (which in these parts is shorts and a printed shirt in colours dazzling enough to blind a fully-grown bear), you pick your hiking kit (consisting solely of an SLR camera that you mostly shoot in ‘auto’ mode), you get on a rugged all-terrain vehicle, drive into the lush forest, listening to the unceasing chirp of unknown birds and the even more unceasing drone of the guide, who will keep yapping about the leopards and cheetahs that he had sighted in his previous trips.

You will be zooming along a dirt road, and suddenly the vehicle would stop and the guide will stealthily point to a small patch of dirt that to you will look exactly similar to all the other dirt you had seen on the trip. You will look quizzically at the guide.

‘Can’t you see it?’ he will say in an exasperated hush. ‘See the footprint there’.

You can now identify some impressions on the ground, but you will still not able to figure out to which animal it belongs.  But your guide will be able to say not only the animal which made it, but also its gender, age, its facebook profile, its credit rating etc.

This story will play out in different variations all through the ride, and eventually you will come back with plenty of snaps of nameless trees and thickets and of a few animals that are not attractions even in your local zoo. But you will still tell your friends back home that you managed to spot tigers and a few other wild beasts.

No wonder tigers have stopped fearing us.