Wildbuzz: In eternal snarl, the holocaust
It is wise to recollect natural history, so as to forestall a holocaust repeat that led to contemporary struggles with tiger conservation.
Whenever tiger numbers are released after a census, celebrations erupt over paltry hundreds added over years. Attendant to that is quibbling among tiger experts over the veracity of the increase despite application of latest technology for the census.
It is wise to recollect natural history, so as to forestall a holocaust repeat that led to contemporary struggles with tiger conservation. The numbers shot during the British Raj suffered no doubt because taxidermist firms such as the globally-renowned Van Ingen & Van Ingen, Mysore, maintained meticulous records.
Between the 1920s and 1950s, the firm dealt with 400-500 tiger skins a year. So, the current tiger population was exterminated in just a few years of the “tiger holocaust era” by Viceroys, the native and European nobles, army officers, tea planters etc. And, Van Ingen handled only over a half of shikar trophies.
Slaughtering a tiger enjoyed a unique flavour in high society. Shikar reigned as a macho sport, emblematic of royal/imperial power. Many tigers were shot from safe, cushioned machhans or Rolls Royces. But the myth of the brave hunter demanded portrayal as a negotiation with the jaws of death. The “beast”, which may have been shot while dozing after a hearty meal on a bait, was reinvented in death as a blood-thirsty foe for shikar gup-shup.
Thus emerged the snarling face in trophy-making. The firm obliged its egoistic, super-elite customers with artisanal innovation: grooves were inserted in the flaccid tiger face to animate it forever in a snarl, eyes flaring and whiskers suitably curling.
Arrival of Kalidas’ muse
As dawn seeped into the placid waters of Jainti dam in the Shivalik foothills on May 27, a keen bird photographer noticed a surreal avian in the delusional light. Procolor Photography Academy Chandigarh director Gagan Gyan initially mistook the bird for a Himalayan bulbul, especially because of a similar black crest. He used his flash and secured a clear photograph of the single bird. The enigma was resolved later when the bird was identified from his photograph by experts as not a native bulbul, but a Pied cuckoo, which is a migratory species from Africa.
The cuckoo is a rare transcontinental migrant that arrives in the tricity in summer, unlike migratory waterfowl such as ducks and geese that flock to enjoy a winter sojourn at Sukhna lake or pass by the tricity to spend winter further south. The reason cuckoos fly so far from Africa to the Shivaliks lies in the phenomenon of “brood parasitism”. They deceive Indian birds such as babblers year after year. The female cuckoo lays her eggs in babbler nests while the male presents a distraction to the babblers.
The babblers obligingly raise the cuckoo chicks as their own. These “spoilt cuckoo brats” monopolise food collected by foster babbler parents as they are bigger in size as compared to babbler chicks. The relentless piteous cries emitted by big cuckoo chicks overwhelm the natural progeny of the babblers and their parents in the ruthless game of the “amoral fittest”
Apart from the cuckoos’ natural requirements, these African migrants are unaware of the cultural resonance they have enjoyed in India for centuries. The cuckoo during its migration to India depends on monsoon winds blowing from the Horn of Africa and its arrival on the southern coast and then migration further north gets linked by the parched peasantry to impending, life-sustaining rains.
Thus, the cuckoo enjoys an exalted reference in Kalidas’ epic poem, Meghdoot, as the “Chataka”: “(O cloud) the wind will be favourable, Slow and soft for thee and waft thee ahead, Close on thy left, The Chataka or the Rain lark, Will sing sweetly.”
- Tiger Conservation