Friday, 9 September 2016

Wildlife in the 70s - The first tigers

For me, in the 1970s, "wildlife" began and ended with tigers. It became a passion to see tigers in the wild and I tramped for days on end in the Betla area of Palamau National Park to see a tiger in the wild. So many times one could see the tracks of a tiger on a game track or a nullah bed in Betla, but actual sightings by forest staff were few and far between, and for tourists even less. Even then, it was a great occasion that in April 1974 I saw my first tiger in the wild, sitting at the base of the Hathbajwa tower in Betla - it was a glorious sight. The experience will forever remain with me.

My next sighting of a tiger was more unusual - it was in a forest rest house! This was in 1976 and Simlipal National Park in Odisha had become well-known for the attempt being made by Mr. S.R. Choudhury, then the Field Director of Simlipal, to re-introduce a tigress cub  captured in the forest back to the wild. It was with a mixture of fear and wonder that I first saw Khairi, the tigress, who was more than one year old at the time at the Joshipur Forest Rest House, that also served as the residence of Mr. Choudhury. It is not easy to remain unmoved when there is a tiger sitting next to one at a distance of just two feet or so, with no fencing or bars to separate the two of us.  Khairi had a natural grace and dignity that accepted an unkempt nature lover from Calcutta without any concern. She was great friends with "Bagho", the pariah dog that Mr. Choudhury had at the time. The above picture shows Khairi in a typical pose with Bagho at Joshipur FRH. Khairi died in tragic circumstances a couple of years later. Simlipal was not the same after that.

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