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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bhopal Notes : 14 : Bhopal tigers

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Kerwa tigress
With tigers being sighted every other day in the outskirts of Bhopal I am reminded of Gwalior of the 1940s when I was growing up there. Around sixty odd years ago we would get similar reports from my father’s friends or other acquaintances. Gwalior was a princely state then and all life used to revolve round the Maharaja and Maharani. If the Maharani went to her ladies’ club her local friends, mostly wives of the ministers or other high officials, would also join her. The club used to be on the Jhansi Road outside the town. On their way back, on many a occasion some of the ladies would see a tiger walking away towards the nearby scrubby hills.

 The maharaja’s club, too, was in the outskirts but was nearer the town. Yet, a friend of my father saw several times a tiger padding away towards the hill where the Scindias even now have their deity. Beyond that was what was known as “aam kho” with thick vegetation, perhaps, providing ideal cover for a tiger. The medical college was yet to come up at the foot of the hill. The tract, up to Jhansi Road across the hill, used to a resident tiger or two. Then, I think it was 1943 when Gwalior got on to the front page of the
Wilderness- Wild Cumberland
national newspapers, a rare occasion, when a leopard raided the Madhav Dispensary, the government repository of medicines with the site of hospital OPDs. Things in Gwalior are far different now. While the hills I made a mention of have been colonized, “Aam Kho”, too, has met the same fate. In fact, at a higher point of the hill a former minister of Madhya Pradesh, late Sitla Sahai, had erected a cancer hospital after he lost his son to the disease. The tigers yielded their habitat to man.

In Bhopal too these days one gets the reports of tiger sightings every other day. Close to the town, near Kerwa, a tiger seems to have settled down and is making meals of domestic cattle. There are villages and farms, including dairy farms where it finds easy prey. A few weeks back a report said that the tiger count around Bhopal had risen to 10 – almost the same as that of a smallish regular tiger reserve. There were four of them and of them two tigresses delivered litters of three each. Kerwa, the forests of Samardha and Kathotia are extensions of the neighbouring Ratapani Sanctuary that has been approved for notification as a tiger reserve. Somehow the state government is dragging its feet. The tigers near Bhopal are spilling over from Ratapani where either
Wilderness-Teapot Dome, Pasayten, Washington State
lack of prey or want of fresh territories for those which have attained adulthood is driving them to newer areas. Tigers have always been present in these areas as a dairy farm owner used to mention yearsago hearing a tiger call whenever he would spend the night there. But that was an occasional feature. Actually, humans have been slowly encroaching on the tigers’ territory. A public school, tourism outfits, farms and residential houses, particularly a massive one of a former chief minister and another of a former chief secretary have all come up on land which, essentially, was tiger territory.

Somehow we do not seem to allow wild areas to remain wild. We have not yet developed the concept of declaring undisturbed natural areas as wilderness and maintain them. The area near Bhopal where tigers now roam should have been declared as “wilderness” where human activity should have been restricted to the minimum. Such areas, in fact, are mostly parts of conservation reserves, protected forests, sanctuaries or national parks. That the area near Bhopal, currently inhabited by tigers, is not part of a national park is hardly of any consequence. It can even now be declared as an “area of wilderness” keeping human activities at a low key. It is not for nothing that various countries manage and maintain areas of wilderness. They believe that such areas are important for the survival of certain species, maintenance of biodiversity, conservation, recreation and lovers of solitude who occasionally want to get away from the madding crowd. As somebody has said, “Wilderness is deeply valued for cultural, spiritual, moral and aesthetic reasons.”

Unfortunately, in our mad rush for “vikas” (development) we are hacking down forests, gobbling up farmlands for building newer and newer townships regardless of unavailability of civic amenities or infrastructure dispensing to the inmates a miserable, unhealthy and testing life. The “vikas” that is accomplished only fattens the already fat and does nothing for the common man whom it hardly ever touches.  Thereby, however, hangs another story.   

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All photos are taken from the internet                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
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