The forest which has Tigers should never be cut, nor should the Tigers be chased away from the forest.
From The Mahabharata
The Tiger in Indian Mythology
The Tiger, an animal built so large and powerful, yet so stealthy and graceful – a reflection of various formed of of Mother Nature’s beauty. It hunts with strategy and highest level of precision, flying swiftly through the forest at the opportune moment to capture its prey – an aerodynamic sentient missile with a single track mind to succeed.
The word “Tiger” itself means “arrow”, and origins of the word are derived from Iranian or Persian descent. Closer to home, the Urdu word “Teer” is used for ‘arrow‘ in India.
In Hindu Mythology, a depiction of Goddess Durga – who is the protector of good from evil – is seen mounted on the Tiger. These can be seen in various Hindu households in India. Goddess Durga possesses immense strength or “shakti”; the tiger is the main symbol of that strength, the ability to harness the power of the beast to preserve the moral order is in her grasp.
Bonbibi, the guardian spirit of the Sundarbans Mangrove Forests in West Bengal, is revered as the guardian of its denizens, interestingly by both Hindus and Muslims of the region. The ecosystem of Sundarbans is rich in ecological diversity, and the livelihood of many depends on the produce of the forest itself. Lives are in danger each time they visit the swampy mangroves for fishing or firewood collection. The spine-chilling stories of the Man-eating Tigers there are enough to deter anyone who can afford a lifestyle away from the essentials of the forest.
In Central India, where the most number of Tigers survive today due to the numerous sacrifices made by the villagers agreeing to relocate from their established homes in the various Tiger Reserves at the behest of the Indian Government, the Baiga tribe consider themselves the descendants of the Tiger and maintain a form of respect towards the animal. Though many of the younger generations would not have seen the Tiger, there is certainly conflict in terms of livestock getting picked off often and rare human attacks, but the patience of this particular community and their neighbors is tremendous.
History of Hunting in India
The Rajput Kings– the finely clad warrior royals were famous for their hunts back in 10th Century AD. Offering to India and the world today, a fine line of a cuisine steeped in a rich history of hunting game such as Partridge, Rabbit, Antelope, and Deer. Their recipes were rich and executed with a taste distinctly associated with the geographic regions of North-Western India. Today, hunting in all its forms is strictly banned in India.
In Central India, the Maharajas of Rewa believed it auspicious to slay 109 Tigers before war or Ascension.
Shikar, a well-known term in India even used colloquially in English, means sport-hunting, and can be traced to mid – 16th Century during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar.
Jahangir, who was the sun of Emperor of Akbar, had listed about 28,500 animals of varied species which he had hunted in his lifetime.
This tradition continued with the Advent of the British in India in 1757.
A Colonel Geoffrey Nightingale – commandant of the 3rd Cavalry in Hyderabad, shot 300 tigers in the 1850’s.
King George V and his entourage traveled to Nepal on a celebratory hunt after his Ascension. They hunted beautiful animals at Chitwan National Park : 39 Royal Bengal Tigers, 18 Greater One-Horned Rhinos, and 01 Sloth Bear – in just 10 days.
In the 1920s, Umed Singh II, Maharaja of Kota, Rajasthan engaged a modified flaming-red Roll Royce Phantom – mounted with a Machine Gun and a Lantaka Canon – a mean machine to obliterate any animal in sight.
After the British left India in 1947 – there was a killing spree as no laws or regulations governing the hunting of Tigers. Everyone who chose to, could attempt to hunt Tigers in India. Hunters were in fact invited from all over the world, akin to today’s Tiger Tourism in India, minus the guns. A free-for-all almost sent the Royal Bengal Tiger to Extinction.
The Maharaja of Surguja proudly told eminent Wildlife Biologist George Schaller that, by 1965, he’d hunted 1150 tigers. The largest tigers were erased almost completely from the gene pool in the era of Trophy Hunting in India.
Wildlife Protection Act of India 1972 and Project Tiger 1973
A rough estimation put the Tiger numbers at around 40000-50000 at the turn of the 19th
Century. Since then hunting, poaching and habitat destruction has decimated the Tiger population in India. The demand for parts of the Tiger for traditional ancient medicine and bravado on the part of the people of India after Independence from British Rule, has generally resulted the Tiger population coming to an all-time low after they were treated like vermin in India.
It was only till around 1970, after a period of sustained pressure and data collection of notable Zoologist and Conservationist Mr.Kailash Sankhla, the Government of India was made aware of the need to protect the massacred Tiger and the importance of protecting it as a keystone species. The Prime Minister of India Mrs.Indira Gandhi who was empathetic towards the cause of Wildlife agreed to eventually have the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 drafted which banned hunting of all species of Wildlife and offered them legal protection in India.
Mr.Kailash Sankhla was appointed as the 1st Director of Project Tiger.
Project Tiger was subsequently launched in 1973, and Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand was the 1st Tiger Reserve brought under its wing. A further 08 Tiger Reserves were demarcated with around 9115 sq km of protected forest – this figure today stands at around 71,000 sq km of protected area and 50 Tiger Reserves established in India in total.