Conserve Tigers, Preserve Our Future! 🐯🌿

Conserve Tigers, Preserve Our Future! 🐯🌿

India is currently reassessing its tiger conservation campaign after five decades to evaluate the progress made thus far. Despite a significantly large human population in the country, we are delighted to have achieved the arguably remarkable feat of also having the highest tiger population in the world. As we contemplate our next steps as a nation, it is essential to chart a direction that determines that we progress in harmony with nature.

Cubs roaming leisurely

Cubs wandering leisurely (Image: Dharmendra Khandal)

The fate of tigers and humans in this country is inextricably intertwined. By prioritizing tiger conservation, we not only safeguard these majestic creatures but also ensure the protection of our precious forests. Consequently, this commitment leads to significant advancements in our relationship with water and food resources, which are essential to our survival.

However, considering India’s human population has grown by more than 100 crore people since 1950, and we have recently surpassed China in this regard, how can we successfully balance development with wildlife conservation?


Confrontation (Image: Dharmendra Khandal)

As mentioned earlier India boasts the biggest share, approximately 70%, of the global tiger population. Nonetheless, the conflict between humans and tigers in certain regions of the country has sparked debates regarding what the size of an ideal tiger population should be.

Considering the impact of climate change, it has become apparent that we may have to accept a certain degree of conflict between humans and wildlife. To date, no definitive solution has emerged that can eliminate such conflict in its entirety. After acknowledging this ground reality, it becomes essential to work towards mitigating and managing human-wildlife conflict in a way that balances the needs of both humans and wildlife.

The 53 designated tiger reserves spanning an area of 75,796.83 square kilometres, safeguard one-third of India’s forest for the preservation of tigers. Notably, approximately 48% of these reserves have been established in the past 15 years, emphasizing an increasing focus on tiger conservation. These encouraging trends indicate that a significant portion of the remaining forests can still be conserved to provide sanctuary for tigers.

Take Rajasthan for example- The amount of tiger reserve area in the state was not large initially, but the state has recently demonstrated remarkable progress by more than doubling its tiger reserve area from 2292 sq km to 4886 sq km over the past decade, with plans to triple it in the near future. However, despite having ample opportunities, several states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh, are yet to undertake similar efforts in expanding their tiger reserves.

Out of a total of 53 tiger reserves in India, approximately 20 reserves cover one-third of the total tiger reserve area. Astonishingly, these reserves account for less than 100 tigers, representing a mere 3-4% of India’s tiger population. This alarming statistic highlights the urgent need for immediate action towards the conservation of these reserves.

According to the United Nations, India’s human population is projected to start declining as early as 2047, eventually reaching 1 billion by 2100. However, this century holds immense significance for our forest and wildlife conservation goals, which will serve as a testament in the future. Despite this potential, it is evident that our forest management practices require improvement. With proper management strategies in place, achieving a tiger population of over 10,000 is indeed attainable.

It is crucial to promote the development of additional tiger reserves in various states. It is counterproductive to discourage their establishment by imposing impractical rules and regulations. Often, it has been observed that the tiger habitats which are deemed suitable extend beyond predefined areas specified by regulations. This highlights the need to further understand and identify suitable habitats for tigers, indicating that our current knowledge might be limited in determining their ideal habitats. An encouraging example is the influx of numerous tigers into the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary, situated near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. Despite this positive development, the state government of Madhya Pradesh remains hesitant to designate it a tiger reserve.

Efforts should be intensified to expedite the voluntary relocation of villages within tiger reserves while ensuring adequate compensation and responsible care for the relocated communities. It is imperative to diligently coordinate a well-planned and strategic relocation process. For example, in Ranthambore, around 1500 families were relocated, but the relocation of 500 of those 1500 families proved beneficial for tigers, as they were situated in the most vital tiger habitat. Therefore, prioritizing relocation procedures that are both equitable and strategic, will ensure the long-term effectiveness and favorable results of such endeavors.

There is a pressing need to prioritize the development of corridors between states to facilitate the movement of wildlife. In addition, by facilitating the sharing of tigers between states, the issue of genetic depression can be effectively addressed, ensuring healthier and more robust tiger populations.

By embracing progressive and innovative approaches to tourism regulations and ensuring the broader distribution of benefits,  wildlife conservation efforts can be significantly advanced. For instance, moving away from large-scale tourism establishments and promoting small-scale Homestays can generate employment opportunities for a greater number of people. This approach will foster stronger connections between the tiger and its conservation efforts.

To change people’s perspectives, it is crucial to emphasize the benefits derived from the tiger in terms of ecosystem services. For instance, in Ranthambhore, which is the world’s driest tiger habitat, the region provides enough water to irrigate 300 villages through the existence of 20 dams despite being an arid region. However, it is unfortunate that many local residents perceive Ranthambore solely as a forest developed for foreign tourism. Efforts should be directed towards educating communities about the positive impact of tigers and the conservation of wildlife, thus fostering a deeper appreciation for their ecological significance.

The assertion that tigers must be constrained once their population reaches 4000, implying potential human wildlife conflict problems, and the proposal of sterilization as a control method, demonstrate a limited perspective and a lack of innovative thinking.

Proposing the imposition of tiger population control measures based on a specific number sends a highly misleading message to the general public. It implies that tiger conservation is merely an experimental endeavour driven by the dogmatic rigidity of a particular class of people. Such statements can lead the public to unfairly blame the entire wildlife conservation effort for any minor difficulties that may arise in the future out of human wildlife conflict etc. If challenging times do occur, it is crucial to make appropriate decisions at that time, which will not require excessive planning in advance. There is no need to prematurely create an atmosphere of fear, as we can address it when it becomes necessary. Controlling tiger populations through sterilization or culling seems challenging, considering the level of precision that will be required in profiling all wild tigers. In other words, we can cross that bridge when we come to it,  there is no need to raise patently unnecessary concerns at this stage.
In our country, dogs are accountable for causing more than 4,000 human deaths annually, whereas encounters with tigers result in less than 2% of human fatalities. The ecological role of dogs remains unclear.  It is important to highlight that snake bites claim the lives of 50,000 individuals, and we have yet to effectively tackle this issue. In light of these circumstances, it prompts us to question the true level of threat posed by tigers. Our society is far from flawless and perfect.So, why is there such an uproar over conflicts with tigers?

It is essential to transcend narrow perspectives and actively seek innovative strategies that ensure the long-lasting success and sustainability of our wildlife conservation efforts. While it is essential for the general public to understand this significance, policymakers in particular must strive to avoid devising plans without due consideration of perspectives that might be deemed ‘unorthodox’. Embracing a broader and more innovative outlook is crucial for safeguarding both the well-being of tigers and the basic needs of our human population.

वन रक्षक 1:    जुनून और जज़्बे की मिसाल: अभिषेक सिंह शेखावत

वन रक्षक 1: जुनून और जज़्बे की मिसाल: अभिषेक सिंह शेखावत

अभिषेक एक सक्षम एवं संपन्न परिवार में जन्म लेने के बावजूद, अपने लिए प्रकृति एवं वन्यजीव संरक्षण जैसे कठोर एवं श्रमशील कार्य के निचले पायदान को चुना और आज वन क्षेत्र में शिकारियों की रोकथाम, वन्यजीवों के संरक्षण और प्रबन्धन में वनकर्मी के रूप में योगदान दे रहे हैं।

एक संपन्न परिवार से आनेवाले “श्री अभिषेक सिंह शेखावत” को हमेशा से ही प्रकृति एवं वन्यजीव संरक्षण के प्रति कार्य करने का जुनून था, जिसके चलते उन्होंने वनरक्षक (फारेस्ट गार्ड) से भर्ती होकर इस क्षेत्र में प्रवेश किया। इनके पिताजी भारतीय पुलिस सेवा में पुलिस अध्यक्ष के पद पर कार्यरत हैं तथा उनके न चाहते हुए भी अभिषेक ने इस कार्य क्षेत्र को ही नहीं बल्कि सरकारी सेवा के निचले पायदान को चुना। आज, 7 साल तक वनरक्षक के रूप में कार्य करने के बाद, 22 जनवरी 2021 को ये सहायक वनपाल के पद पर पदोन्नत हुए हैं। हालांकि इनकी पदोन्नति से भी ये अपने पिताजी को खुश नही कर पाए। परन्तु फिर भी, एक उम्मीद की किरण, निरन्तर कर्मठ व प्रगतिशील व्यक्तित्व इन्हें अपनी कर्मभूमि के प्रति ईमानदार व व्यवस्थित रहने के लिए हौसला बढ़ाता रहा हैं। वन क्षेत्र में अवैध खनन व शिकारियों की रोकथाम, वन्यजीवों के संरक्षण और प्रबन्धन में इनका उल्लेखनीय योगदान रहा है। ये अपनी कार्यशैली व कुशलता के दम पर अपने साथियों को सकारात्मक रूप से प्रेरित रखने में भी अहम भूमिका निभा रहे हैं।

वर्तमान में 28 वर्षीय, अभिषेक सिंह का जन्म सीकर जिले की रामगढ़ तहसील के खोटिया गांव में हुआ तथा इनकी प्रारंभिक शिक्षा बाड़ी धौलपुर एवं उच्च माध्यमिक शिक्षा जयपुर से हुई और अलवर से इन्होने बीएससी नर्सिंग की शिक्षा प्राप्त की है। इन्हे हमेशा से ही पर्यटन, वन भृमण, प्रकृति एवं वन्यजीवों के प्रति रुचि रही है। वर्ष 2003 में जब इनके पिताजी अलवर में पुलिस उपाधीक्षक थे, तब ये अक्सर अपने दोस्तों के साथ सरिस्का अभ्यारण में घूमने जाया करते थे और तब से ही इनके मन में एक चाह थी कि मैं भी किसी तरह प्रकृति के नजदीक रह कर इसके संरक्षण के लिए कार्य करू।

अपनी पढ़ाई पूरी करने के बाद वर्ष 2011 में इन्होने वनरक्षक के लिए आवेदन किया तथा चयनित भी हुए। ट्रेनिंग के दौरान इन्होने वन्यजीव कानून व वन्य सुरक्षा में प्रथम स्थान प्राप्त किया तथा गर्व की अनुभूति के साथ इन्होने उमरी तिराहा पांडुपोल (सरिस्का) वनरक्षक के रूप में अपना पद संभाला।

वन क्षेत्र के भीतर अवैध चरवाहों को रोकते हुए अभिषेक

अभिषेक बताते हैं की “उस समय वहां के उप-वनसंरक्षक को लगा कि एक पुलिस अधिकारी का बेटा जंगल में काम नही कर पाएगा और उन्होंने मेरे पिताजी से बातकर मुझे ऑफिस में लगाने की बात कही, लेकिन मैंने साफ मना कर दिया। फिर एक बार यूँ हुआ उप-वनसंरक्षक और मैं साथ में रेंज का दौरा करने गए, तो कुछ पशु चरवाहों और उप-वनसंरक्षक में आपस मे कहासुनी हो गई। परन्तु मैंने हौसला दिखाते हुए 29 भैसों व उनके चरवाहों को वहां से भगा दिया। यह देख न सिर्फ उप-वनसंरक्षक प्रभावित हुए बल्कि मेरे जुनून व हौसलों की असल पहचान भी हुई।”

वर्तमान में अभिषेक सरिस्का बाघ परियोजना, बफर रेंज अलवर नाका प्रताप बंध व बीट डडीकर में सहायक वनपाल के पद पर तैनात हैं।

इतने वर्षों की अपनी कार्यसेवा के दौरान कई बार अभिषेक ने न सिर्फ मुश्किल बल्कि खतरनाक कार्यवाहियों में भी बड़ी सूझ-बुझ से भूमिका निभाई है।

नबम्बर 2018 में, वन विभाग कर्मियों ने नीलगाय का शिकार करने वाले कुछ शिकारियों को पकड़ा था। परन्तु पूछताछ के दौरान अपराधियों ने बताया की उन्होंने एक बाघिन का शिकार भी किया था तथा उनके कुछ साथी पडोसी जिले में छिपे हुए थे। उन शिकारियों को पकड़ने के लिए उप-वनसंरक्षक द्वारा 8 विश्वस्त लोगों की टीम गठित की गई जिसमें अभिषेक भी थे। अभिषेक और उनके एक साथी तहकीकात के लिए पडोसी जिले में गए और इस दौरान उनके सामने कई प्रकार की मुश्किलें आई जैसे की कुछ लोग उनकी सूचनाएं अपराधियों तक पहुचाने लगे। वे शिकारी एक जाति विशेष की बहुलता वाले क्षेत्र से आते थे, जो राजस्थान के सबसे संवेदनशील इलाकों मे शामिल था, और उस क्षेत्र में मुखबिरी करना अभिषेक के लिए एक चुनौतीपुर्ण कार्य था। ऐसे में अभिषेक और उनका साथी साधारण वेषभूषा में वहां के स्थानीय व्यक्ति की तरह दुकानों व चाय की थडियों पर बैठकर जानकारी जुटाने लगे। उन्होंने स्थानीय पुलिस की सहायता से उस जगह की छानभीन कर अपराधियों के अड्डों का पता तो लगा लिया था। परन्तु उस जगह पर छापा मारना आसान नहीं था क्योंकि काफी संख्या में ग्रामीण इकट्ठे हो सकते थे और हमला भी कर सकते थे। ऐसे में स्थानीय पुलिस टीम की मदद से उन अपराधियों को पकड़ लिया गया। वर्तमान में उन अपराधियों पर कानूनी कार्यवाही चल रही है तथा न्याय व्यवस्था इस प्रकार के अपराधों के लिए गंभीर रूप से कार्य कर रही है।

समय के साथ-साथ अभिषेक ने नई-नई चीजे सीखने में बहुत रुचि दिखाई है जैसे की उन्होंने श्री गोविन्द सागर भारद्वाज के साथ रह कर बर्ड-वॉचिंग व पक्षियों की पहचान के बारे में सीखा।

टाइगर ट्रैकिंग के लिए इनकी 15-15 दिन डयूटी लगती हैं जिसमें कई बार इनका टाइगर से आमना-सामना भी हुआ है। एक रात अभिषेक अपने साथियों के साथ बोलेरो केम्पर गाड़ी से गश्त कर रहे थे, तभी एक जगह खाना खाने के लिए उन्होंने गाड़ी रोकी। उनके साथियों ने गाड़ी से नीचे उतर एक साथ बैठकर खाना खाने को कहा परन्तु अभिषेक बोले की कैम्पर में बैठकर खाना खाते हैं। वो जगह कुछ ऐसी थी कि एक तरफ दुर्गम पहाड़ व दूसरी तरफ एक नाला था और सामने एक तंग घाटी थी। तभी अँधेरे में लगभग 15 फिट की दूरी पर एक मानव जैसी आकृति प्रतीत हुई और जैसे ही टॉर्च जलाई तो सामने टाइगर नजर आया। पूरी टीम ने ईश्वर को धन्यवाद किया की अगर गाड़ी से नीचे उतर गए होते तो कितनी बड़ी दुर्घटना हो गई होती। टाइगर ट्रैकिंग का एक वाक्य ऐसा भी हुआ जब अभिषेक व उनके साथी अनजाने में टाइगर के बिलकुल नज़दीक पहुंच गए और टाइगर गुर्राने लगा। तभी उन्होंने जल्दबाजी में एक पेड़ में चढ़ कर अपनी जान बचाई।

अभिषेक ने जंगल के सीमावर्ती क्षेत्रों में अवैध खनन को रोकने के लिए भी प्रयास किये हैं। जैसे एक बार गस्त के दौरान उन्होंने अवैध खनन वाले एक व्यक्ति को ट्रॉली में पत्थर भरकर ले जाते हुए देखा व रोकने की कोशिश भी की। ट्रैक्टर तेज गति से जाने लगा तो उन्होंने ने भागते हुए ट्रॉली के पीछे लटक गए,  ट्रैक्टर तेज गति में था, अतः अभिषेक ट्रॉली से लिपटकर घिसटते चले गए। लेकिन उस आदमी ने ट्रेक्टर नही रोका बाद में जैसे तैसे कूदकर उन्होंने अपनी जान बचाई। अभिषेक बताते हैं कि “ऐसे मौकों पर जब हम अवैध खनन माफिया के संसाधनों का पीछा करते हैं या जब्त करते हैं तो अधिकाँश ऐसे लोगों को दबंगों या राजनीतिक व्यक्त्वि विशेष का संरक्षण होता हैं। ऐसे में कई बार अपशब्द व धमकियां भी सुनने को मिलती हैं तब मन मे एक पीड़ा होती हैं कि हमारे पास ऐसे आदेश नही हैं कि हम अवैध कार्य करने वाले व इनको संरक्षण देने वालो को खुद सजा सुना सके।”

आवारा कुत्तों द्वारा हमले में अपनी माँ को खो चुके नीलगाय के इन छोटे बच्चों को अभिषेक ने बचाया व इनका ध्यान भी रखा

अभिषेक के अनुसार संरक्षण क्षेत्र की सबसे बड़ी समस्या है वन क्षेत्रों के आसपास रह रही आबादी जो कई बार एक साथ इक्कट्ठे होकर लड़ाई करने के लिए आ जाते हैं। एक बार अभिषेक अपने साथियों के साथ विस्थापित परिवारों से मिलने गए तो वहां पर एक जाति विशेष की बहुलता वाला क्षेत्र था। वे लोग विस्थापित परिवारों के साथ भी दुर्व्यवहार करते थे और पेड़ों का कटाव भी कर रहे थे। जब वन अभिषेक एवं साथियों ने उन लोगों को रोकने की कोशिश की तो उन्होंने पत्थर फेकना शुरू कर दिया। ऐसे में वन कर्मियों के पास न तो कोई संसाधन थे और न ही प्रयाप्त टीम।

समय के साथ-साथ अभिषेक ने नई-नई चीजे सीखने में बहुत रुचि दिखाई है जैसे की उन्होंने श्री गोविन्द सागर भारद्वाज के साथ रह कर बर्ड-वॉचिंग व पक्षियों की पहचान के बारे में सीखा। जंगल में काम करते हुए अभिषेक ने सांप रेस्क्यू करना भी सीख लिया तथा बारिश के मौसम में अब कई बार ग्रामीण लोग उन्हें सांप रेस्क्यू करने के लिए बुलाते हैं। अभिषेक का जंगल के आसपास रहने वाले लोगों को वन व वन्यजीवों के लिए जागरूक भी करते हैं जैसे की वे समय-समय पर विस्थापित परिवारों से मिलने जाते थे और उनसे समाज की मुख्य धारा, शिक्षा व स्वास्थ्य के बारे में चर्चा करते हैं। कई बार जब आसपास के गांवों से महिलाएं जंगल में लकड़ियां लेने आती हैं तो उनको वनों की विशेषता के बारे में बताकर, पेड़ न काटने की शपथ दिलवाकर भेज देते हैं और इसके चलते आज उस क्षेत्र में पेडों की अवैध कटाई बिल्कुल बन्द हो गई हैं तथा वर्तमान में वहाँ हमेशा टाइगर की मूवमेंट रहता हैं।

अभिषेक के पिताजी चाहे कितने भी सख्त बने परन्तु उनको भी अपने बेटे व उसकी कार्यशैली को लेकर काफी चिंता रहती है जिसके चलते वर्ष 2018 की शुरुआत में उनके पिताजी के प्रभाव से उनका तबादला गांव के पास ही एक नाके पर हो गया ताकि वो घर के पास रहे। लेकिन प्रकर्ति के प्रति उनका जुनून और हौसले के चलते उन्होंने पिताजी से बिना पूछे ही अपना ट्रांसफर पुनः सरिस्का में करवा लिया। ये देख सभी को अचम्भा भी हुआ क्योंकि रणथम्भौर और सरिस्का में खुद की इच्छा से कोई भी नही आना चाहता।

एक बार सरिस्का बाघ रिसर्व के सीसीएफ ने वनरक्षकों का मनोबल बढ़ाने के लिए “मैं हु वनरक्षक” नामक पोस्टर बनवाये थे और जिसके ऊपर अभिषेक की फोटो छापी गई थी। चाहे आम नागरिक हो या वनकर्मी सभी ने पोस्टर की सराहना की थी। जब उनके पिताजी को पोस्टर के बारे में मालूम चला तो वो काफी खुश हुए और उस वक्त उनकी खुशी से अभिषेक को दोगुनी खुशी मिली।

अभिषेक के अनुसार वन्यजीव संरक्षण क्षेत्र में कुछ ऐसी जटिल समस्याए हैं जो हमारे लिए सबसे बड़ी बाधा हैं जैसे; एक बीट में केवल एक ही वनरक्षक रहता हैं, वन चौकियां दुर्गम स्थान पर होती हैं जहाँ चिकित्सा,बिजली व पानी जैसी मूलभूत सुविधाओं का अभाव व नेटवर्क की समस्या  रहती हैं। कई बार शिकारियों से भी आमना सामना होता हैं और ऐसे में केवल एक डंडे के अलावा उनके पास कोई हथियार नही होता। साथ ही कम वेतन भी इनके मनोबल को कमजोर करता है। क्योंकि एक वनरक्षक की शैक्षणिक व शारिरिक योग्यता पुलिस सिपाही की भर्ती मापदण्ड के समान हैं तथा इनका कार्य भी 24 घण्टे का रहता हैं लेकिन जो सुविधाएं पुलिस सिपाही को मिलती है जैसे हथियार, 2400 ग्रेड,वर्दी भत्ता व जोखिम भत्ता आदि ये सुविधा वनकर्मियों को नही मिल पाती हैं। यह कुछ मूलभूत आवश्यकताएं हैं जो सभी को चाइये परन्तु प्रकृति व वन्यजीव संरक्षण के प्रति इनके हौसलों की उड़ान कभी कमजोर नही हो सकती।

अभिषेक बताते हैं की “अभी तक के इन कार्यों में हमेशा पिताजी मेरा साथ देते रहे हैं अतः मैं समझता हूं कि मेरे इस कार्य से खुश जरूर हुए होंगे या फिर उन्हें कुछ तो मेरे प्रति सुकून मिला होगा। तथा वे मेरे पिताजी ही हैं जो मुझे हमेशा सकारात्मक, कर्मठ व साहसी रहने की प्रेरणा देते हैं।”

नाम प्रस्तावित कर्ता: डॉ गोविन्द सागर भरद्वाज


Shivprakash Gurjar (L) is a Post Graduate in Sociology, he has an interest in wildlife conservation and use to write about various conservation issues.

Meenu Dhakad (R) has worked with Tiger Watch as a conservation biologist after completing her Master’s degree in the conservation of biodiversity. She is passionately involved with conservation education, research, and community in the Ranthambhore to conserve wildlife. She has been part of various research projects of Rajasthan Forest Department.




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.