Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
These lines by William Blake celebrate the majestic power of the wild cat that is our national animal. If the statistics given are accurate, the tiger will soon find itself limited to photographs and museums and future generations might have to satisfy themselves with visual images and subjective mental perceptions much like the present generation struggles to understand the dinosaurs.
The extinction of the tiger is a clear, present and palpable danger. The matter seems to be getting from bad to worse despite numerous efforts by governmental and non-governmental bodies. The roar of the tiger being the identity of the Indian jungle, the tiger came to be associated with India in different cultural symbols or ideas, commanding awe, fear and reverence all around. The origin of the tiger can be traced to somewhere in East Asia (the Asian theory about the South Chinese Tiger being the original form is more generally accepted now).
The gradual expansion of human habitation across the centuries and the callous ravaging of forests for industrial expansion in the twentieth century soon found the tiger confronting man for the sake of survival. It became quite intense during the British Raj and if we read the stories of Jim Corbett, it becomes abundantly clear that numerous man-eating tigers had caused havoc in the early part of the twentieth century resulting in an enormous loss of human life.
But even Jim Corbett stresses that the tiger is basically a ‘large hearted gentleman’ who would not feast on human flesh unless he is desperate. A serious injury, lack of animals in the forest because of deforestation and hunting, or old age are the main reasons that tigers sometimes become man and cattle eaters. Killing tigers became a fashionable hobby, an advertisement of manliness, particularly during the British era.
Every second Maharaja of some petty state, every third shot of the British Empire, and every Jim Corbett wannabe wanted to pose on the carcass of some mutilated tiger after having hounded and shot it with the help of a huge number of people. That is manliness for you!
The wanton destruction of these beautiful creatures continued after independence because a tiger skin fetched you a huge sum in the market and people paid money to obtain numerous body parts of the tiger believing that they have medicinal properties. The power that these poachers and business mafia dealing in tiger parts wield makes a mockery of all the laws that have been passed till date against hunting tigers to protect them from extinction.
Hence, every third day, we come across reports that highlight the shocking and sacrilegious murder of these wonderful creatures in forest reserves which prove that a considerable section of the concerned authorities are hand-in-glove with these unscrupulous dealers of death. We definitely need to wake up before it is too late;
‘The King of our forest is dead,’ said Shyam. ‘There are no more tigers.’
‘There must be tigers,’ said Ramu. ‘How can there be an India without tigers?’