last century has witnessed a remarkable change in attitudes to wildlife, with
the focus shifting from conquest or slaughter towards conservation. This volume,
the second in a two-volume set which brings together wildlife writing from the
days of the Raj to the present times, celebrates the transformation.
narratives of tiger shikar bring the naturalist to the fore as they describe
the big cat in a variety of habitats across South Asia and celebrate its
majesty. There are vivid descriptions by pioneering animal watchers such as
Corbett's account of a stag in the mountains, encounters with the lions of Gir
Forest on foot, the life-and-death encounter of prey and predator in the
jungles of Assam, and Salim Ali's description of the 'city of flamingoes'. The
transition from gun to camera emerges clearly through the experiences of two
great conservationists-Kailash Sankhala and Arjan Singh.
class of naturalists gives equal attention to smaller animals and trees, as
evident in the pieces on the blackbuck, the wild dog, the turtle, the cobra, and
the comings and goings at a waterhole in summer. The volume also documents new
trends in the study of animal behaviour and life, in the accounts of Valmik
Thapar and R. Sukumar which detail the family life of tigers and elephants.
dilemmas of conservation come alive in this book, and alert us to the need for
efforts to keep nature a haven for wildlife as well as a home for man.
Rangaraja is Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, An environmentalist
and political analyst on television and in print, he is the author of Fencing
the Forest (OUP, 1996).
eclipse of the Empire in India came in 1947, but many of its old habits
lingered. Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, later President of the
World Wildlife Fund International, visited India in 1961; what led to a row was
their tiger shoot in the old hunting reserve of the ruler of Jaipur in the
Ranthambore forests. The shoot commenced, and the tiger was duly despatched,
trans-formed into a trophy to live on in the hunters' tales of how they had
shot dead a master predator. The British tea planter and naturalist E. P. Gee,
who had stayed on in India, actually defended the choice of target. He even
compared the slaying of a tiger in India to the shooting of a stag in Scotland.
Given a sense of restraint, he said, such acts would not harm wild populations;
the sport-hunter was a friend of the forest. Keep aside a few choice specimens
for his pickings and he would help save the woodland from axe and plough, the
deer from the poacher, the tiger from the snare-setter. The logic was not new,
but the intensity of the debate pointed to great changes down the road.
India of the 1960s was not so different from the times of the Raj. It
was still mandatory for a Divisional Forest Officer to shoot a tiger before
getting charge of his tract of forest. American tourists came out to emulate
Corbett's feat of bagging an extra-large male tiger, the famous Bachelor of
Powalgarh. Contrast the tech-nologies available to those of a century ago, and
the hunter seemed to be inexorably closing in on the hunted. The four-wheel
drive, the dry cell battery light, anti-malarial drugs, telephone lines to once
remote bungalows, long-ranging rifles: all made it easier to travel faster,
shoot more effectively and kill more game than ever before. The decline and
retreat of the denizens of the forest accelerated. It provoked not only a
revulsion to slaughter but a new sense of love for wildlife.
beneath the trigger-happy surface, rumblings of change had been perceptible
decades earlier. After the First World War, shocked by the carnage in the trenches
of Europe, many British officers turned away from their guns during their
subsequent posrings to India. There were other early signs of empathy for the wild.
One of the finest pieces of Jim Corbett-reproduced in this anthology-is about
watching a herd of hangul or Kashmir Stags, spellbound by their beauty.
Corbett's gun lay forgotten and he came away empty-handed, but the memory of
that encounter lived on. Fred Champion actually gave up hunting and pioneered
the photography of large Indian mammals in the wild.
generation earlier, bag limits had been imposed on how many deer could be shot
in state forests, though more as an act of prudent sportsmanship than
protection. Others now turned their focus from the mega-fauna of the forest to its
smaller, equally colourful inhabitants. Bird-watching had the added charm of
being possible even within the confines of big cities or on the outskirts of
small towns. A woodland like the Gir, renowned for its lions, could offer more
thrills and yield many a secret to one whose trained ear could tell one bird
song from another. Early in the twentieth century, came the discovery of the
city of flamingos on the salt encrusted flats of the Rann of Kutch. Salim Ali
made the arduous journey to and fro on camel-back, pointing out that
watching birds in such hostile and forbidding terrain was as trying as stalking
big game on foot.
joy of discovery and the shooting of wildlife with the camera gained new
adherents, there rose a growing band of critics of the old order. Not all made
headway. The English missionary and writer Edward Thompson, who wrote a fine
essay on the decline of India's fauna in the 1940s, raised the issue with
Mahatma Gandhi. The latter assured him tongue in cheek that even though wildlife
was dwindling in the jungles it was increasing in the cities. Others were more
receptive. Lodged in the Naini Tal jail, Jawaharlal Nehru busied himself with
Salim Ali's bird book,
exchanging notes on identification with fellow inmates and his daughter, Indira.
Though he had shot a goral (a goat-antelope) on his honeymoon, the sight of its
death had moved him deeply. Similar tales of the penitent butcher turning away
from the artefacts of killing were to be played out time and again. The
reformed big game hunter, usually one of the local landed gentry, had often
begun by shooting as a school boy. It was men like these-Billy Arjan
Singh's name comes to mind-who would cross over to conservation in independent
India. They are prominent as pioneers in the art of watching animals. A fawn at
play, the role of leopards in nature's economy, the behaviour of tigers in the
wild: each became first a note in a diary, then the subject of an essay. The
pioneers were blazing a new trail. Their writings are a bridge between the shikari
past and our own Age of Ecology.
big game hunter, India was a kaleidoscope of landscapes, each symbolized by a
trophy-worthy animal. Assam meant rhinos, Mysore the gaur and so on. The next
step was a logical one. The canvas broadened to include trees and wild flowers,
common birds and reptiles. As new ways of seeing and asserting the coherence of
the world gained ground, the lapwing seemed as engaging as the leopard, the
cobra as mysterious as the tiger. Few men have ever played as central a role in
changing popular perceptions of nature in this regard as M. Krishnan. If as
many as five extracts from his writings figure in this collection, it is a
measure of his immense contribution to the broadening of our vision of the
wild. He began writing in the 1930s, and was a pioneering publicist of the
havoc suffered by India's wildlife as well as part of the new efflorescence of
natural history writing, field biology and conservation.
living landscape would find new men and women to celebrate and record its
splendour. Many are names familiar to the average newspaper reader, others are
less widely known than they deserve. These new writers form a mixed crew.
Kailash Sankhala, writing from the 1950s, was a forester turned
conservationist. A generation down the line, A.J. T. Johnsingh set out to do a
doctorate on the dhole or Indian wild dog-and demolished a century-old
stereorype of an insensate deer-hunting beast. Rom Whitaker, snakeman
extraordinary, opened our eyes to the vital role reptiles play in India's
economy, ecology and culture. The scientist Raman Sukumar unlocked secrets of
the family life of one of India's most beloved creatures, the elephant. The
list is long and growing.
that the challenges of conserving wildlife have diminished or the threats
receded. Park-like enclaves for patches of natural forest or scrub do exist,
but these are hemmed in by the growing demands of industry and the modern
market. Co-existing with nearly a billion people is not easy for lions,
elephants and their neighbours. Yet India's scientific expertise and the sheer
persever-ances of its conservationists, the deep-seated roles of the wild in
its culture, and the growing debate on how best to protect what remains-all of
these offer hope for the future. The pressures are mounting, not only in forest
or mountain, but also in mangrove and on the coast line. But there is little
doubt that a better quality of life for India's people is dependent on these
natural treasures. From being an aesthetic luxury or a mere resource reservoir,
they are now accepted as the surest sign that the natural cycles of repair and
renewal are still intact.
particular places symbolize best how far things have truly changed. Ranthambore
was a killing field for tigers till as recently as 1961. Perhaps it can also be
an emblem, a symbol of the great changes that have since occurred. For decades,
tigers were portrayed by hunter-naturalists as creatures with virtually no
family bonds. They were killers of the night, untameable and ferocious, fit
only to be shot or at least avoided at all costs. It was in this spirit that Col.
Kesri Singh organized shoots for the princes with his customary expertise.
In 1973, a little over a decade after the Duke's fateful shoot at Ranthambore,
the forest became one of India's tiger reserves. What followed was not only a
recovery of the fauna and flora, but the amazing and unprecedented phenomenon
of wild tigers dropping their nocturnal cloaks. Valmik Thapar's account of the
close bonds of a male tiger with his mate and cubs is both remarkable and
deeply symbolic. The first because it changed our earlier notions of tiger
behaviour: the callous male could even be a doting father. And symbolic, for it
showed that even big cats can get over their wariness of people and forge new
bonds of trust with people. To keep these ties alive is one of the great
challenges of the times we live in.
Introduction: From Tiger to Flamingo
PART I: TIGER! TIGER!
The Largest Tiger?
The Bachelor of Powalgarh
Tigers on Foot
PART II: ANIMAL WATCHING: THE PIONEERS
Tigers in the Wild
What is the Use of Leopards?
Vigil on a Pine Tree
An April Day in the Gir Forest
Mainly about Lions
Stopping by the Woods on a Sunday Mornmg
The Big Bull Bison of Gedesal
From Killer to Conservation
A Day's Span of Life
Fights to the Death
PART III: THE LIVING LANDSCAPE
Our Wildlife: A Great Legacy Dissipated
Spring in the Forest.
Dhole: Dog of the Indian Jungle
'Lion Shows' in the Gir Forest: At Home with Humans
Waiting for the Tiger
The Rhino of Kaziranga
In the Company of Elephants
Let Nature Take Its Course
The Riddled Ridley
The Tigress, Her Cubs and the Father
Chennai's Patch of Green
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