Fateh Singh Rathore: A Human Tiger

Fateh Singh Rathore: A Human Tiger

Fateh Singh Rathore, a world-renowned expert on wild tigers, was the man behind the development of Ranthambhore, then a small hunting ground of erstwhile maharajas of Jaipur to a world famous tiger national park.

Fateh came from a rajput family. His family is based in a village called Chordiyan near Jodhpur. Unlike other earlier tiger experts, he was never a hunter. He started a career in wildlife conservation by pure chance, after several failed attempts at other occupations that held no interest for him. Through his uncle’s connections, he got a job as a ranger in Sariska, and immediately knew that he had found his calling. He loved the forest, and soon grew to excel in fieldcraft, interpreting the signs of the forest as few others have been able to do. He was never very interested in studies or classroom work, and relied on empirical field observation rather than theories. As a result, he has been belittled by some who find him unscientific, forgetting that scientific theories originate from field observations.

Ironically, the first task he had to face in the area that became the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve (RTR) was to arrange a tiger hunt for Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain when she visited India in January 1961. In those days, wildlife tourism meant hunting, and many ex-Maharajas organized hunts for their visitors as a source of income for themselves. This area of Rajasthan was the hunting preserve of the Maharaja of Jaipur.

fateh singh rathore

Hunting was banned in the early 1970s, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi realised that the number of tigers in the wild had fallen dangerously low, merely 1800 as compared to around 40,000 at the beginning of the twentieth century. Project Tiger was set up in 1973, and Ranthambhore was one of the nine reserves chosen under its first phase, which aimed to include an example of each of the different types of habitat in which wild tigers were found. Ranthambhore is a dry deciduous forest. Fateh was given the responsibility of developing this new park, since his seniors, S.R. Choudhury who taught him at the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun and Kailash Sankhala, the first Director of Project Tiger, saw great promise in the young man. Fateh Singh Rathore ably lived up to that promise. He set to work planning and making roads through the park area, locating them in such a way that animals would always have access to drinking water, and ensuring that the paths meandered and were never straight. The whole area was very degraded, with most of the trees lopped for firewood by the inhabitants of 16 villages that existed in isolated pockets. Domestic cattle roamed everywhere, and the only evidence of the presence of any wildlife was an occasional tiger pugmark or deer hoof print. Fateh Singh Rathore realised that if the forest were to be allowed to regenerate, he would have to move the villages out of the area. He went about his task using a great deal of patience and tact, finding out from the villagers what they would want as compensation. Project Tiger ensured that the villagers were compensated with better land outside the park area, with five additional bighas of land being given to every male over the age of 18. They were also provided with money to build houses and dig wells, and were in addition given a health centre and a school, facilities that they had never had in the past. The new village was named Kailashpuri in honour of Kailash Sankhala. Once the villages were moved out, the forest began to regenerate on its own, becoming the incomparably beautiful Ranthambhore National Park, and in 1976, Fateh finally saw his first wild tigress there, naming her Padmini after his elder daughter. He began studying her with her family of four cubs (a fifth cub died young), and soon Ranthambhore became famous as one of the best places in the world in which to see wild tigers.

 with villagers
Late Sh. Fateh SIngh Rathore was very keen to talk with local villagers and to help them

His experiences with wild tigers have been widely documented in the books that he and Valmik Thapar (now a very well respected tiger expert himself) and he wrote together. One observation they made and photographed was that the male interacts freely with his cubs. Up until then it was believed that the tigress brought up the cubs on her own. But they photographed a family in a pool together, father, mother and two cubs. On other occasions they saw the male even sharing food with the cubs, or playing with them. In the 1980s there was a tiger they called Genghis who developed his own way of hunting sambar by rushing into the lakes to catch them as they grazed. This technique has been documented on film. Many television documentaries featuring Fateh have been made in English, French, German, Japanese, and many magazine articles have appeared on him over the years. His work has earned him numerous international awards, the latest being given to him by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) as recently as 16 February 2011.

Fateh Singh Rathore was unfailingly good hearted, generous, kind and friendly. At the same time, he had a short temper, and lost no time in punishing anyone who he felt was harming any of the animals. As a result, although he was genuinely loved by many people all round the world, he was also feared and disliked by those who had done something wrong, or who had some of their shortcomings pointed out to them. His one agenda was to save wild tigers, and he did not hesitate to blow the whistle each time he felt things were going wrong. Every time he pointed out that some tigers were missing from the park, in spite of the forest department’s vehement denials, he was penalized in some way for his temerity, even though he was invariably proved right. Fateh Singh Rathore was a man of the purest integrity and honesty, but many tried to spoil his reputation by alleging all kinds of false things about him, all of which were disproved in court. One of the saddest phases of his life was when the forest department banned him from entering the park he did so much to create. Another was when he was given an office job in Jaipur, far from his forest, and had all his suggestions ignored even though his designation was that of “Technical Adviser”.  

fateh singh rathore

Sawai Madhopur, the town nearest Ranthambhore, has grown and prospered since I first visited Ranthambhore in 1983, its economy dramatically changed because of the employment opportunities generated by the park. Today Ranthambhore is one of the finest places in the world in which wild tigers can be seen, and it has given so much delight to so many people. Most of the images of wild tigers seen round the world are those taken in Ranthambhore. This success comes at a price: tiger poaching raises its ugly head from time to time, with tiger skins and body parts smuggled to China. Fateh’s approach to the poachers was unique, and very typical of him. He realised that the people who actually kill the tigers are not the ones who profit from the deed. They are very poor nomadic hunter-gatherers from the Mogiya tribe. Knowing that poaching cannot be curbed by jailing the poachers for a few days and then letting them off on bail to continue their occupation, he has been trying in the recent past to rehabilitate them by offering them an alternative livelihood. Through his NGO Tiger Watch, he set up a hostel for Mogiya boys where they are fed, clothed and sent to school, giving them an opportunity to improve their lives. The older boys have now started receiving vocational training to improve their prospects. The women are being taught various handicrafts. All these benefits are being given on condition that the men stop poaching tigers.

 in cave

Fateh has always been a larger-than-life character, with a stentorian voice, full of exuberance and fun. He loved teasing his friends with a twinkle in his eye, and would tell all kinds of silly jokes, sing songs, tell his tiger stories around a bonfire on a chilly winter night. He loved meeting people and took to his heart all those who loved his forest. In fact it is largely due to him that so many people have become enthusiastic supporters of the cause for saving wild tigers. He was always a true and loving friend, and a benign and grandfatherly figure to the children who attend the Fateh Public School set up by his son Goverdhan, where they already practice the kind of inclusive education recommended recently by Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal, offering freeships to village children who come from as far as 20 km away. His love for tigers was equally infectious, and influenced many younger conservationists. His brand of magic was nothing but his utterly genuine nature. There was never anything fake or malicious about him. He was just a very lovable and loving person, very childlike in many ways, and that is what endeared him to us all. He loved listening to sentimental ghazals, and was equally fond of jazz. I once took him to a well known music store near Kala Ghoda to select some CDs, and he was shown about 20 of the kind he wanted. After listening to a few samples, he decided to buy the lot.

Most of all, Fateh Singh Rathore loved being in the forest, seeing all his animals, savouring every sight, smell and sound. He had a sharp instinct for knowing where to find a tiger, and all his knowledge of tigers came from his keen and regular observation of their behaviour. He was so attuned to tigers that many of his friends referred to him as a human tiger. He even looked a bit like one, with his jaunty white moustache. It was an absolute delight and privilege to be driven around the park by him, charging his jeep into a meadow if he saw crows or vultures on a tree, in case we found a tiger there with its kill. He would hum with delight if he saw a tiger with his “Field Director’s eyes”. He knew every mammal, bird, reptile, insect or plant that was found in “his” forest, and loved them all.

fateh singh rathore watching cave paintings
Fateh watching a rock painting near Bundi district

It has been very painful to watch his health decline over the past two months since his cancer was diagnosed. At the end he even lost his voice, and found it difficult to communicate what he wanted. Every mouthful of food or sip of water would bring on a fit of coughing. Yet he was extremely brave until the very end, surrounded by his loving family and friends who did all they could to ease his discomfort. The cancer won in the end, mercifully sooner than expected, and he breathed his last on the morning of 1 March. The cremation was planned for the next morning, and his body was laid out in the living room of his beautiful house, overlooking the hills on the outskirts of Ranthambhore. Almost miraculously, at 4 a.m. on the day of the funeral, a tiger was heard giving three roars directly behind his house, followed by a clamour of alarm calls by other animals and birds. They came to call their father home, and that is where we shall continue to find his benign spirit, watching over the special piece of earth he made his own.



Rohida Flowers And The Nectar Robber Sunbird: An Interesting Story Of Pollination

Rohida Flowers And The Nectar Robber Sunbird: An Interesting Story Of Pollination

Sometimes the bright colors of the flowers and sometimes their sweet fragrance attracts bees, insects, butterflies and birds who extract the nectar of flowers, and helps in the process of pollination. Pollination is a process in which the male part of the flower – the pollen grain from the anther, reaches the stigma female part of the flower from some medium (air, water, bird, insect, etc.) and fertilizes the eggs in the ovary.In the desert of Rajasthan, when the Rohida trees undergo mass blooming with yellow, orange and red flowers, during this time, there is an interesting behavior between the red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) and the purple sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus) foraging around these flowers. This behavior shows many interesting aspects of pollination.

Rohida Flowers
Photo By Dr. Dharmendra Khandal

The “Tecomella undulata”, found mainly in Rajasthan, which also has the status of state flower, is found especially in the desert areas of Rajasthan. It is an deciduous tree of the family Bignoniaceae, and similar to ‘Flame of the Forest’ (Butea monosperma), Rohida also undergo ‘mass blooming’, in the spring season. Rohida is of high ecological and economic significance to Rajasthan, especially in the desert regions where it flourishes on sand dunes. . It can tolerate both, extreme low temperatures (about −2 °C) and high temperatures (about 50 °C) which is why it is also probably termed the ‘Desert Teak’ or ‘Marwar Teak’. It is known for its strong and durable wood quality. Today high anthropogenic demand, coupled with the fact that Rohida are ‘slow growers’, has lead to the tree being included in the IUCN Red List of threatened species. Rohida currently faces a high risk of extinction and its future remains uncertain today.

Its flowers are of the shape of a trumpet – from which birds extract nectar in two ways – either by putting their head inside the flowers; Or by making holes through its beak directly on the base of the flowers without aiding pollination. This behavior is also called Nectar robbing’ – a method by which animals extract nectar without coming in contact with the pollen of flowers.

Rohida Flowers
Photo by Dr. Dharmendra Khandal

Bulbul extracts nectar by putting his head inside the flower and while doing so Bulbul’s head, and his black head is painted yellow with pollen dust. Whereas the Sunbird extract nectar by making a small hole at the base of the flower without helping in pollination and this process is called Nectar robbing. The reason why a sunbird steals nectar is that it does not easily reach nectar stored at the base of the flower, because the flower is bigger than the sunbird. Sometimes if she puts her head in the flowers, then the anther filled with pollen do not touch her. Because of which she does not participate in the process of pollination.

For a successful pollination, it is very important to have a morphological compatibility between the shape & size of the flower and the shape & size of the beak and head of the bird. That is, Bulbuls appeared morphologically compatible with these flowers, with their larger heads and comparatively smaller beaks, which is why they needed to completely pop their heads inside the flower for nectar and while doing so, their heads may have come in direct contact with pollen. In comparison, sunbirds having smaller heads and needle-shaped long beak sizes indulged in extracting nectar with minimal contact to pollen in the flowers.

Rohida Flowers
Photo by Dr. Dharmendra Khandal

In this process, the sunbird is completely established as a parasite, but we look deeply, even if the sunbird steals nectar from the flowers, it also indirectly helps in pollination. As during the nectar robbing sunbird visit multiple Rohida flowers at a higher frequency, thus increasing competition and influencing bulbuls to visits multiple trees in adjoining areas. This symbiotic behavior between the birds may indirectly helped Rohida trees in cross pollination.

In fact, both sunbirds and bulbuls play an important role in pollination, but in this case bulbuls can be termed as “true pollinators” and sunbirds are “influencers”. Similar observations have also been given in a research paper entitled, “Nectar robbing positively influences the reproductive success of “Tecomella undulata” where the Purple Sunbirds foraging techniques were correlated to positively affect on cross-pollination in Rohida.

Birds have a very significant role in the process of polination of Rohida  flower
Birds have a very significant role in the process of polination of Rohida Photo by Dr. Dharmendra Khandal

Like the sunbird, the bulbuls also makes holes at the base of the flowers, and two different types of markings are often seen on the flowers falling from the trees – such as small holes on the base of some flowers, and large oval holes in some. By looking at the size of birds, it is clear that small holes are made by sunbirds and large holes are made by bulbul. Apart from this, it is also seen that on coming into contact with the bulbul, many times the soft flowers also broke and fall. It may be that the purpose of the bulbul is not to get nectar from the flowers, but only to break them. If flowers are seen falling from the trees, it is found that most of the flowers are not naturally wilted but broken by birds (especially bulbul), or broken by their carelessness. According to a study done by Dinesh Bhatt and Anil Kumar (Fortkail 17, 2001) on the eating ecology of red-vented bulbul in India, it could be attempts of bulbuls to feed on Rohida petals. On the other hand, these fallen flowers are eaten by Chinkara (Gazella bennettii) and Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) etc. and this shows the commensalism between the red-vented bulbul and antelope.

So, this time, when rohida flowers blossom in the month of February-March, try to see this behavior between different birds with Rohida flowers.

(Translated from Hindi to English by Ms. Payal Tatwal)

Rohida Flowers And The Nectar Robber Sunbird: An Interesting Story Of Pollination

राजस्थान का राज्य पुष्प रोहिड़ा एवं उसकी अद्भुत परागण प्रक्रिया

कभी फूलों के चटकीले रंग तो कभी उनकी मधुर सुगंध मधुमक्खियों, भँवरों, तितलियों और पक्षियों को अपनी ओर आकर्षित करती है जो फूलों का मकरंद पीते है,और परागण की महत्वपूर्ण प्रक्रिया में सहायता करते हैं। परागण एक ऐसी प्रक्रिया है जिसमें पुष्प के नर भाग-पुंकेसर से परागकण, किसी माध्यम (हवा, पानी , पक्षी, कीट आदि ) से फूल के मादा भाग स्त्रीकेसर तक पहुँचते हैं और अंडाशय में बीजो को निषेचित करता है।

राजस्थान के मरुस्थल में जब रोहिड़े के पेड़ पीले, नारंगी और लाल रंग के फूलों से भर जाते हैं तो इस दौरान इन फूलों पर मंडरा रहे रेड-वेंटेड बुलबुल (Pycnonotus cafer) और पर्पल सनबर्ड (Cinnyris asiaticus) के बीच एक दिलचस्प व्यवहार देखने को मिलता है, यह व्यवहार परागण की प्रक्रिया के कई दिलचस्प पहलुओं पर प्रकाश डालता है।

रोहिड़ा का वृक्ष ( फोटो डॉ. धर्मेंद्र खांडल )

मुख्यतया राजस्थान में पाए जाने वाला वृक्ष “रोहिड़ा”(Tecomella undulata) जिसे राज्य पुष्प का दर्जा भी हासिल है, विशेष रूप से राजस्थान के मरू क्षेत्रों में पाया जाता है। यह बिग्नोनियासी (Bignoniaceae) परिवार का एक पतझड़ी पेड़ है, जिस पर वसंत ऋतु में पलाश के पेड़ के समान, एक साथ बड़े पैमाने पर फूल खिलते हैं। रोहिड़ा, राजस्थान के लिए पारिस्थितिक और आर्थिक महत्व का पेड़ है, विशेष रूप से रेगिस्तानी क्षेत्रों में जहां यह रेत के टीलों पर पनपता है। यह अत्यधिक निम्न तापमान (लगभग -2°C) और उच्च तापमान (लगभग 50°C) दोनों को सहन कर सकता है, और शायद यही कारण है कि इसे ‘डेजर्ट टीक’ या ‘मारवाड़ टीक’ भी कहा जाता है। यह अपनी मजबूत और टिकाऊ लकड़ी की गुणवत्ता के लिए जाना जाता है । मानव द्वारा उच्च मांग और धीमी गति से बढ़ने के कारण आज यह पेड़ IUCN रेड सूची में शामिल किया जा चुका है और वर्तमान में रोहिड़ा विलुप्त होने की ओर है तथा इसका भविष्य आज अनिश्चित बना हुआ है।

इसके फूल एक तुरही के आकार के होते हैं- जिससे पक्षी दो प्रकार से मकरंद निकालते है- या तो फूलों के भीतर अपना सिर डालकर या फिर परागण में सहायता किये बिना सीधा फूलों के आधार पर अपनी चोंच द्वारा छिद्र बनाकर। इस व्यवहार को ‘मकरंद चोरी’ भी कहा जाता है – यह एक ऐसी विधि है जिसके द्वारा जानवर फूलों के पराग के संपर्क में आए बिना मकरंद निकालते हैं।

पक्षियों द्वारा गिराए गए फूलों को खाते हुए चीतल हिरन (फोटो डॉ. धर्मेंद्र खांडल )

बुलबुल अपना सिर फूल के अंदर डाल कर मकरंद पीती है जबकि सनबर्ड फूल के आधार पर एक छोटा छिद्र करके मकरंद की चोरी करती है I बुलबुल द्वारा मकरंद पीते समय परागकण उसके सिर पर चिपक जाते हैं, परन्तु सनबर्ड परागण में सहायता किये बिना मकरंद निकालती है। यही प्रक्रिया मकरंद की चोरी (Nectar robbing) कहलाती है I इस प्रक्रिया के दौरान बुलबुल के सिर पर परागकण चिपक जाते हैं ,और उसका काला सिर पराग कणों से पीले रंग में रंग जाता है।
सनबर्ड के मकरंद चोरी करने का कारण है की वह आसानी से फूल के आधार पर संग्रहित मकरंद तक नहीं पहंचती है, क्योंकि फूल का आकार सनबर्ड की तुलना में बड़ा होता है कभी कभार यदि वह अपना सिर फूलों में डालती भी है तो परागकण से भरे परागकोश उसे छू नहीं पाते हैं I जिस कारण वह परागण की प्रक्रिया में भागीदारी नहीं निभाती है।

एक सफल परागण के लिए, फूल के आकार व संरचना और पक्षी की चोंच व सिर के आकार के बीच एक प्रकार की समरूपता होनी बहुत जरूरी है। अर्थात बुलबुल अपने बड़े सिर और छोटी चोंच के कारण रोहिड़ा के फूलों के साथ समरूप है क्योंकि छोटी चोंच के कारण उनको अपने सिर को पूरी तरह से फूल के भीतर ले जाना पड़ता है और ऐसा करते समय, उनके सिर परागकोष के सीधे संपर्क में आते है। वहीं दूसरी ओर सनबर्ड्स अपने छोटे सिर और लम्बी चोंच के कारण फूलों के परागकोष के संपर्क में आये बिना मकरंद निकाल ले जाती है।

रोहिड़े के फूल (फोटो डॉ. धर्मेंद्र खांडल)

इस प्रक्रिया में सनबर्ड तो मानो पूरी तरह से एक परजीव के रूप में स्थापित हो गयी परन्तु गहराई से देखें तो भले ही सनबर्ड फूलों से मकरंद की चोरी करती है परन्तु फिर भी अप्रत्यक्ष रूप से परागण में सहायता भी करती है। क्योंकि मकरंद चोरी के दौरान सनबर्ड ज्यादा से ज्यादा फूलों पर जाती है, जिससे वह बुलबुल के लिए मकरंद संघर्ष को बढाकर, उसे आसपास के कई फूलों और पेड़ों पर जाने के लिए मजबूर करती है। सनबर्ड और बुलबुल के बीच का यह संघर्ष, अप्रत्यक्ष रूप से रोहिड़े के पेड़ों को परपरागण (cross pollination) में मदद करता है।

वास्तव में सनबर्ड और बुलबुल दोनों ही परागण में एक महत्वपूर्ण भूमिका निभाते हैं, लेकिन इस मामले में बुलबुल को “सच्चा परागणक” (true pollinators) और सनबर्ड्स को “प्रेरक” कहा जा सकता है। इसी प्रकार की टिप्पणियों को एक शोध पत्र में भी दिया गया है, जिसका शीर्षक है, “नेक्टर रॉबिंग पॉजिटिव इन्फ्लुएंस द रिप्रोडक्टिव सक्सेस ऑफ टेकोमेला अंडुलाटा” जहां पर्पल सनबर्ड रोहिड़ा में परपरागण को सकारात्मक रूप से प्रभावित करते हैं।

फोटो डॉ. धर्मेंद्र खांडल

सनबर्ड की भांति बुलबुल भी फूलों के आधार पर छिद्र बनाती है एवं पेड़ो से गिरे फूलों पर अक्सर दो अलग-अलग प्रकार के चिह्न देखने को मिलते हैं । जैसे कुछ फूलों के आधार पर छोटे-छोटे छिद्र, तो कुछ में बड़े अंडाकार छिद्र। पक्षियों के आकार को देख कर यह स्पष्ट समझ आता है कि छोटे छिद्र सनबर्ड द्वारा तथा बड़े छिद्र बुलबुल द्वारा किये जाते हैं। इसके अलावा, यह भी देखा जाता है की बुलबुल के संपर्क में आने से कई बार कोमल फूल टूट कर गिर भी जाते है। हो सकता है की बुलबुल का उद्देश्य फूलों से मकरंद निकालना नहीं बल्कि सिर्फ उन्हें तोडना है। यदि पेड़ों से नीचे गिरे हुए फूलों को देखा जाये तो यह पाया जाता है की, अधिकांश फूल प्राकृतिक रूप से मुरझा कर नहीं बल्कि पक्षियों (विशेषरूप से बुलबुल) द्वारा तोड़े हुए हैं , अथवा उनकी लापरवाही से टूटे हुए हैं। दिनेश भट्ट और अनिल कुमार (Fortkail 17, 2001) द्वारा भारत में रेड-वेंटेड बुलबुल के खाने की पारिस्थितिकी पर किये गए अध्ययन के अनुसार यह बुलबुल द्वारा फूलों की पंखुड़ियों को खाने के प्रयासों के संकेत हो सकते हैं। वहीं दूसरी ओर पेड़ों से गिरे हुए इन फूलों को चिंकारा (Gazella bennettii) एवं नीलगाय (Boselaphus tragocamelus) आदि खाते हैं तथा यह रेड-वेंटेड बुलबुल और एंटीलोप के बीच सहभोजिता (commensalism) की प्रक्रिया को दर्शाता है।

फोटो डॉ. धर्मेंद्र खांडल

तो इस बार जब फरवरी- मार्च माह में जब रोहिड़ा पर फूल आये तो प्रयास करना की आप विभिन्न पक्षियों के साथ रोहिड़ा के मध्य होने वाले इस व्यवहार को देख सकें।