Ustad means Boss.
In Ranthambore tiger reserve, a big male tiger has just been shifted. Formally called T-24 (Tiger 24), but known much better as Ustad, he is accused of killing four people.
The Forest Department says they gave Ustad many chances, and he has repeatedly killed people, and eaten them. Another section of activists says that Ustad has been wronged. For instance, this plea to bring Ustad back stresses he should be reunited with his family.
While I welcome the fact that people care enough for a tiger to write these things, not all of them are based on logic.
“There were days when I walked in my territory carefree
My life was beautiful as we were the happy family of one plus three
Often living at the edge, we basked in the glory of life;
While my babies made most of their play, my meals had love from my lovely wife;
Indeed! It was a beautiful life!!”
It’s a bit obvious though: tigers don’t have wives, and their wives don’t make them meals. This picture of domestic bliss is cute but misplaced.
A legal petition in the Rajasthan High Court and the Supreme Court has been dismissed. Ustad has been moved to a zoo, and he will stay there, now.
Ustad’s defenders are not convinced. Anoorag Saxena, who has been campaigning on social media for Ustad’s release, asks for boycotting Ranthambore National Park. He claims Ustad has been wrongly blamed for four deaths, and that forest guards are making testimonials against the tiger out of other pressures.
From sources that I trust I believe that Ustad really did kill and eat people. Another film, made by conservation supporters, is below:
And there are calls like this too:
Here is what Ustad means to me, and to the Indian conservation movement:
1. Whether right or wrong, the energy around Ustad is amazing. It would be even more amazing if the energy is taken to defend tiger habitats. Right now, several tiger reserves are facing a crisis. The Kanha-Pench corridor and the Sariska tiger reserve are both under threat from highway widening. More public outcry over these projects, which are being pushed through by the government aggressively, would mean that India cares. For many Ustads.
2. Ustad’s case throws light on the dangerous conditions forest guards work on. Given that forest guards have to be close to tigers, others– tourists or otherwise– should not get too close.
3. Tourism needs to be disciplined, and should put the tiger first.
Perhaps in his departure, Ustad has taught us many lessons we need to learn.
Finally, I want to add that maneaters are not murderers. Tigers don’t know that killing people is wrong. If found eating people, tigers should be removed. But that is no reason to hate the species and have mobs baying for the collective blood of tigers or leopards. My column on this issue is here.
What are your thoughts on Ustad, and dangerous tigers?