ARTICLE: A REQUIEM FOR TIGRESS AVNI

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    One of the notable events of 2018 highlighted by the Press on New Year’s eve was the death of the five year old tigress, Avni, in Maharastra. Animal-lovers and activists, among them a Union Minister, alleged that is was a deliberate act of killing, of a fine specimen of an endangered species. The feeling of loss was heightened by the fact that Avni is survived by two two-month old cubs.

    It looked as if the newspapers revelled in the controversy that erupted after the tragic end of Avni. From November 3 to December 10, day after day, sparks flew and the Press carried reports of allegations by the activists and defensive statements by the alleged perpetrators of the crime, namely, the State Government at the ministerial level and the sharp-shooters, father and son. The Union Minister wanted nothing less than the State Forest Minister’s scalp, to wit, his dismissal or resignation. The latter retorted that those who held animal life more precious than human life should show the way.

    According to one report, the big cat had killed at least 7 out of the 13 who had died during May 2016 and August 2017, in the Loni village Relegaon tehsil, Yavatmal District in the Vidharbha region of Maharastra. In August 2017, Avni made short work of at least three persons. The Forest Department then decided to do away with the animal but the activists in protest took the matter  to the High Court, and later to the Supreme Court. Both the courts nodded their assent for killing the animal. After prolonged but futile efforts at capturing Avni, the State Government engaged two sharp-shooters, Shafath Ali Khan and his son Asghar Ali from Hyderabad, and they accomplished the job on November 2.

    Meanwhile, the activists were up in arms. They maintained that the animal should have been captured rather than killed. They alleged that the land was cleared of wildlife to help a private party to set up a factory. Some experts held that several Acts were violated in the diabolic process. Asghar Ali claimed that the animal was shot dead in self-defence. The Hyderabad Forensic Laboratory, on December 10, 2018, confirmed the attempt at tranquilising the animal.

    It would appear that so much vehemence in the protest against the killing  and the excessive publicity given to the controversy were disproportionate to the intrinsic importance  of the event itself. The tiger, no doubt a marvel of creation, is not ecologically very important. The Project Tiger, which was launched in 1973, to preserve wildlife, set out with the aim in moderate terms viz. ‘to maintain a viable population of tigers in India for scientific, economic, aesthetic, cultural and ecological values.’ It must be said to the credit of the Government that, unlike other Asian countries such as Japan and Korea where the species is extinct, the wildlife conservation measures have paid up in India. From 2500 in 1972, the tiger population increased to 3642 in 2001-2002; the number of ‘Tiger Reserves’ rose from 9, covering an area of 14,000 sq km in 1973 to 27, covering an area of 37,761 sq. km, spread over 17 states.

TIGER IN LITERATURE

    ‘Magnificent’ is the word that comes to my mind when one thinks of this gorgeously striped (in yellow and black) creature. It has inspired poets, novelists and animal lovers no end. William Blake (1757-1827) in a popular poem, gave expression to his wonder:

    ‘What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?’

    He poised the following question for which we have no answer to this day. ‘Did He who made the lamb make thee?’

    The tiger as an object of worship, as Valmik Thapar points out in his informative book ‘The Cult of the Tiger’ (Penguin 2002), had been prevalent from Siberia to South-East Asia; perhaps, it continues here and there.

    In India, Shiva of the Trinity of Gods, wears the tiger skin vyaagrasina ambara-dhara, as Sri Shankara says in his Shivaashtakam. Even as the Sabarimala Temple of Kerala is in the news, one remembers that the deity brought a tiger home when the Queen of Pandalam wanted Ayyappa to fetch tiger’s milk from the forest. The Supreme Goddess Durga has for her vehicle the tiger.

    The literature on the tiger is vast; about 55 books are listed  as of Indian origin in Valmik Thapar’s book.

    While sympathising with the two surviving cubs, let us have a Requeim for Avni.

RELIGIOUS BELIEF AND CONSERVATION

    India in the 21st century has over one billion people and also boasts of half of the world’s tiger population, half of the world’s Asiatic elephant population and along with these charismatic species, an array of other living organisms. Could any of this have been possible without a core belief in nature? Could the Asiatic elephant have been safe without a belief in Ganesha, the elephant God? Could the tiger have survived had it not been the vehicle of Durga? And would the snake, the turtle, the peacock, the cranes and some of our trees have survived without a bank of beliefs in them?  –Valmik Thapar.

(This article was written by V.S.R.K. and published in Bhavan’s journal in recent months)

Posted by Kamlesh Tripathi

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