Bill Scott's blog

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When a tiger tried to walk home

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The Christmas edition of The Economist had a long feature – A tiger's tale  – on the plight of the tiger in India today.  It focused on a 5-year old male – known as T3 to its minders – that, in 2009, was shipped from the Pench tiger reserve to the Panna reserve some 650 km to the north.  Finding things not much to its liking, T3 promptly broke out and set off to walk home.  The article tells the story of the month-long pursuit of T3 by 70 men and 5 elephants.  The story had a positive outcome as far as T3 and the Panna are concerned (and the elephants and humans), but the wider story about the tiger's future in India is clearly less positive as the article's ending illustrates:

"... Panna remains both fortified and fragile.  India’s human population is still growing, the trade in tiger parts persists.  The long-term survival of tigers lies in aligning their interests with an improvement of local people’s lives—of being a sight people believe is worth seeing, and which people will come to look at when they can.

For such magnificence to depend for its future on being instagrammable seems to offend against dignity.  But what else is there? The obsessively monitored fortresses cannot last forever, and they are hardly the natural habitats they were once believed to be.  There will always be wildness in the ways of animals—in what they choose, unbidden, to pursue.  But to seek the natural, in India as elsewhere, must also be to accept that the world of the wild is shared with, and shaped by, humans; to be a human who loves nature is to try and make that sharing work.  The idea of powerful creatures in the vast untouched wilderness has a sublime thrill to it.  It also has a certain cosiness; it is the imaginary ideal where many human ideas about nature grew up.  But as T3 discovered after he swam across the Ken, you really can’t go home again. “The old world is gone, ... We cannot bring it back.”

This article has rich detail and is the sort of thing that needs to be read by anyone who wants to understand what (if anything) might realistically be done about conservation where human development conflicts with the wild.  It might have been written specifically about India and the tiger, but it has applicability much more widely.

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