It’s almost been a very long time now since the last tiger roamed in the wild. The jungles don’t exist anymore. The balance was upset. The apex predator, a natural indicator gone, herbivore population explosion, deforestation, climate change, global warming,….., the list goes on. There are very few of us left today. We thought we’d make it, but the technology we created wasn’t enough to insulate us. In fact, that is exactly what did us in. While sustainable development is still just a bookish idea, we’re endangered, and edging dangerously close to extinction. Yes, we the humans. The web is upset, and nature is getting back at us. Natural disasters, epidemics and an environment on earth that is hostile to life forms. There are fewer of us than was ever imagined before, and we too are dying out. This is it. They say your entire life flashes before your eyes just before you die…
2008: A few weeks ago, it was discovered that the tiger population was just over a thousand individuals. And that too, is an official estimate. Don’t we all know what a notorious reputation “official estimates” have! So while state governments are in denial mode and most of us anyway don’t care, the stripes are gone for good. Even if they do accept the figures and make genuine attempts to “Save the tiger”, how possible is it? The gene pool has already been reduced. Even if we can make the species go on for a few more decades, it won’t be long before genetic mutation gets the better of the tiger. In breeding will lead to cubs being born with defects that will make survival in the wild even more difficult. They too will be gone some day. All the tigers. Just pictures left behind, to teach the kids. In those pictures, somewhere among the stripes, she’ll look at us again. A blank stare.
The 21st century: I remember standing in the Shahu Palace of Kolhapur. It’s a museum today. There were glass cases full of stuffed animals. One particular case had several tigers. There were cubs, males, females, almost every size. I remember being told that killing a tiger was considered a sign of valour for the royalty.
A hunting party vs. a solitary animal
Men armed with guns vs. a tiger armed with nothing but its own ill-adapted body
Men on elephants vs. a tiger on foot, soft velvet paws
A planned murder vs. a struggle for survival
… and valour they called it. I remember those eyes looking through the glass. Those dead eyes. A blank stare.
The 20th Century: independence, many were to discover, didn’t come cheap. I live in a village in India. I don’t know what freedom means to me. It hasn’t brought me anything. The forests were my land. It was taken away from me. I know I need to feed myself, my family. When people are willing to pay money for poaching, for buying fur, bones and almost every part of the tiger’s body, I don’t hesitate before I shoot that animal stuck in my snare trap. But I remember that face, which haunts me sometimes. As if it were saying something to me. A secret message. A blank stare.
Late 19th century: “Buffalo calves were tied in the jungle as bait. About fifty elephants were sent out to circle the place where the tiger was likely to conceal itself. Then, when the ring was ready, orders were given for a couple of elephants to go inside and find out where the tiger was hidden. The tiger which remained encircled for such a long time usually got enraged, charging at the elephant that went near it. In the beginning it’s exciting, but after a while, the tiger becomes exhausted and lies down… With two or three rings being made a day, I have seen hundreds of tigers being shot.”
-Maharaja Bahadur Banali’s Acount in a Manual on Tiger Hunting.
I came across this account while I was watching a documentary on the British Empire. This documentary also went on to say that in just ten weeks, Viceroy Lord Linlithgow’s hunt killed 38 rhino, 27 leopards, 15 bears and 120 tigers. The visuals were shocking. Men standing over the corpses of scores of tigers. Congratulating each other for having brought home another rug. A rug with a blank stare.
There are centuries of memories. I have seen the tiger. I killed it. I will pay for it. I am the last Homo sapien left on earth. Possibly the last in the universe. I look up at the blank, cloudless skies. Just as blank, as the blank stare.