These magnificent animals now no longer exist. They are extinct. Never again will we glimpse such wonderful creatures hunting in the shadow worlds of Indian forests for sambar deer, or again hear their roar through the night air. Three million years of evolution – gone.
The largest cats in the world that filled us with fear and respect and delight and awe – that such fierceness could exist at all – are gone,
Reserves were set aside to protect tigers.But there are many poor people in the lands of the big cats. Some shot or trapped tigers for what they could get for their hides and bones and meat – and even for the value of a single whisker that would, when worn, give a man strength. Others crept into a reserve to steal half an acre on which to build a little house and pasture a cow – for a man must have food to feed his family. Such a little bit of land out of a vast reserve that it would make no difference to the survival of tigers.But many people melted into the reserves and many half acres became a lot. And sambar deer, the food of tigers, were a welcome source of additional meat. With fewer deer to be had tigers killed cows and goats.But that wasn’t right. So men banded together and going into the forest killed tigers to protect their livestock.
Tiger numbers dropped further. Tiger roar became less and less common. Finally a man claimed that he heard one far off in the distance but few believed him. Then one night a single shot. The last Bengal Tiger died. Only silence in the forest then: silence and the sound of treepies.
For years we had talked of the urgency to protect tigers. Politicians closely associated themselves with this fine idea. After all tigers were the very symbol of India: They were the makers of children’s dreams and stories and the stirrings of poets. But in the end none of this meant anything. Tigers were driven to extinction.
If such news were, one day, to come to pass what would be our reaction? Would we shake our heads in disbelief? Would we express outrage? And why outrage when all of us will be to blame?
(extract Planet Dancing.)