Just as the boardroom has it’s icons, so does the jungle. Fateh Singh Rathore was one of these. He was dubbed the “tiger guru” for good reason – few other people had such a vast repertoire of knowledge about the tiger than he did.
A Rajput by birth, he was brought up in Choradia, near Jodhpur. He became a forest ranger in the early 60s and one of his first assignments was to arrange for Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh to go on a shikar in Ranthambore. The Duke shot his obligatory tiger – which was the thing to do at the time. It wasn’t until about 10 years later, when he came as the forest ranger of Ranthambore, that Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, launched the vanguard Project Tiger initiative in 1973.
“…And fear for the animal turned to love.
Perhaps, the first indication of Fateh’s change of heart was his growing resentment of shikar (those were pre-protection days). When he spotted yet another pair of shikari’s tying a machan he decided to act. As the hunters waited at night, bait in place, rifles in hand for the doomed tiger, Fateh spoiled the party, leading a loud procession through the area, beating drums and singing bhajans. The Americans left, disgruntled, and the tiger was spared. This was vintage Fateh, always game for a gag, and fiercely protective of his tigers, and Ranthambore, a passion and commitment that continued to his dying day…”
– Prerna Singh Bindra, The Sunday Guardian
In those days, Ranthambore was a very different park. Agriculture had encroached shamelessly on the park’s terrain. The lakes were dry and there were 16 villages all of which were sunk in a vortex of poverty and poor living conditions. The vegetation was fodder for cattle and any wild animals that there might have been had been depleted. In an excerpt from an interview with Sanctuary Asia:
It was that easy, was it?
No! It was one of my most difficult assignments. The people hugged the trees and wept. They felt that their future was utterly bleak. All the old people said, “We have already passed our entire lives here, let us die here.” I was crying with them because, inside me, I knew they were paying the price for something they may never understand. We laid out plans for the resettlement site called Kailashpuri and allotted plots by a lottery system. With the people gone, nature responded beautifully. Not just the tiger, all the animals that had been driven out by humans years ago returned.
Rathore was one of the early conservationists who realized that in order for humans and animals to coexist, the human beings would have to make some sort of compromise. He spearheaded a huge initiative that took immense courage, cajoling and patience, to move 16 villages out of tiger territory. In the early 80s, a group of resentful villagers almost killed him. But he survived after several months of convalescence and went right back to his beloved jungle to save the tiger.
Poaching by a tribals from the Mogya tribe was another major hazard. Tiger skins, teeth and bones collected high prices on the black market. An NGO called Tiger Watch started patrolling the forest, to curtail poachers. When they realized that the Mogyas were a group of nomadic hunter-gatherers who saw this as a part of their livelihood, they worked closely with the tribe to rehabilitate them and find alternative means of sustenance that were not harmful to the ecosystem.
Fateh Singh Rathore believed that conservation efforts went hand in hand with community development. He set up schools, hospitals and other facilities to uplift community members and garner their support in saving the tiger. Rathore won several awards for his work – but his highest achievement comes from the resurgence of the tiger population and resurrection of the forest in Ranthambore. He eventually died at his home in Sawai Madhopur in 2011.
“The tigers knew they had lost their friend and champion. At 4 am the next day, hours before the funeral, a tiger appeared behind his house, roaring thrice, maybe in final farewell, maybe to pay his last respects…”
– Prerna Singh Bindra, The Sunday Guardian
Born and brought up in New Delhi, it was Sharad’s childhood passion to play cricket for India. While on a holiday in 1990, he saw his first tiger. Little did he know that this one sighting would immerse him into a realm where forests and tigers were all that mattered.
Sharad’s experiences as a wildlife photographer have inspired him to observe the tiger’s behavior for over 30 years and motivated him on his own journey as an entrepreneur. He started Nature Safari India Pvt Ltd, with a focus on “Conservation through Tourism.” to align himself to the mission of saving the regal species and repopulating them in India’s forests. In 2006, he set up one of India’s premier jungle lodges in Kanha National Park.
Sharad believes that there are many lessons to be learned from a tiger that can be applied successfully to leadership—both in business and in life. Here’s a new book by Sharad Vats on management and leadership skills to learn from a Tiger.