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Be aware of tigers

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

Tigers are not dangerous, says this conservationist. Meet Valmik Thapar...

S. Thanthoni

Keeping guard...

"It was 1961 and I was nine years old. We were at the Corbett National Park, atop an elephant. That's when I first saw a tigress with her two cubs," says Valmik Thapar, who has been working to save the tiger for the past 28 years. Valmik Thapar is a member of the Central Empowered Committee constituted by the Supreme Court of India. He has got 12 films on tigers to his credit and explains that saving the natural world is the only way to ensure our survival in the future. The tiger man, who set up the Ranthambore Foundation to help save the big cat, was in Chennai recently to screen a film, "Danger in Tiger Paradise." Excerpts from an interview.

Are there enough laws to protect the tiger?

Yes. It's just that people are not aware. India has 20 per cent of the world's forests and we need to protect them. The tiger is a symbol of a healthy environment. What is the biggest threat the tiger faces?

Encroachment, illegal mining, hydroelectric power projects, taking over forest land for construction, construction of large dams... the biggest threat is habitat destruction. Poachers are the last in line.

Did Jim Corbett give tigers a bad name with his stories about man-eaters?

I don't think he intended to do that, but yes. Between 1875 and 1925, 80,000 tigers were shot and more than 50,000 were injured. The injured tigers, unable to hunt for themselves, turn into man-eaters. When you destroy the forests the tiger lives in, it has nowhere to go, that's when it starts attacking human beings. Jim Corbett did call the tiger a gentleman, but then that fact is forgotten in the excitement of the chase. Tigers are not dangerous. I feel safer walking with tigers than to walk on the streets of a city.

Do zoos help in conservation?

Six hundred million people look at tigers in zoos every year in India. That's a point where people can be educated about them. Zoos should put up boards containing information about the tiger, its habitat, the threats it faces and so on. What can students and schools do?

Students can start nature rooms and clubs in school. There are lots of interesting speakers in Chennai who could be brought in as speakers. The Bishnoi tribe in Rajasthan will give themselves to be killed to save the chinkara (a species of deer). These are all inspiring people who can be brought in to teach conservation.

What should we do to save the tiger?

Under the existing laws, every person can seek to protect the forests at the Supreme Court or High Court level. So if you know someone is violating the law and destroying a forest, you can report it. Every person — whether a doctor, a journalist, a child, a lawyer, a teacher — needs to be involved in this process.

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