Indie Stories / Wild

Ustad: The Tiger. What a Maneater means to India

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.

I quote:

“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.

Photo source: internet

Photo source: internet

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:

Source: Internet

Source: Internet

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?

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6 thoughts on “Ustad: The Tiger. What a Maneater means to India

  1. with all due respect I only want answer to one question. Can Neha Sinha or anyone answer this pleae : WHAT WE EXPECT FROM USTAD IF ANY HUMAN BEING COMES TO CLOSE TO HIM IN HIS CORE TERRITORY? regardless of the fact that they were illegal wood cutters or guard whose job was to man the post.

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    • I agree Sanjeev, which is why I say we should not get close to Big Cats. There are other instances where lions and tigers have reacted adversely because people have gone too close.

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  2. The manner in which so many wildlife lovers came out so rabidly in support of an individual tiger–made famous in the safari circuit and on social media–while there is practically no opposition from India’s large (and increasing) base of wildlife tourists when far more devastating damage is being inflicted every single day on nameless tigers and tiger habitats through the ruthless diversion of tiger forests for mining and infrastructure projects, is appalling. The T-24 incident has been a rude wake-up call to the fact that conservation awareness in India’s public still has a very long way to go. A non-issue has been turned into an issue by masses of safari tourists who have put hearts over their heads and have expended massive amounts of emotional, physical and financial energy that could have served tigers and wildlife immensely better if it was channeled towards the right conservation issues.

    This incident has brought to our fore the following:

    1. Conservation leadership in India still has a long way to go before the general public (particularly the wildlife loving public) is made aware of genuine conservation issues and the solutions to them.
    2. That the model of wildlife tourism in India has failed so far to create informed and sensitised conservationists out of our citizens. Most ‘tiger lovers’ have little interest in the tiger beyond safaris and photographs.
    3. That informed conservation action in India is sorely lacking in the mass and scale that we saw in this T-24 non-issue.
    4. That the foundations of our tiger conservation policies and reserve managements remain strong and are improving and that reserve managers often show great leadership and decision-making capabilities in the face of massive, though misinformed, public protests. This is highly laudable.

    In the interest of preventing community hostility from worsening against tigers, in the interest of safeguarding the foot-soldiers who guard our forests and in the interest of the tigers of Ranthambhore, the decision taken on T-24 by the reserve management couldn’t have been more correct. When administration fails to act, people take matters into their own hands and retaliate. I wonder if those who have been protesting T-24’s capture so emphatically can even fathom the consequences on the forest and other tigers in Ranthambhore if a confirmed maneater were allowed to roam free.

    Wildlife conservation isn’t about animal welfare. It is about thinking with one’s head and not one’s heart. It isn’t about individual animals. It is about saving species and ecosystems within the challenges of complex local demographics. Nowhere in the world is wildlife conservation as challenging (or as successful) as it has been in India where so many species capable of killing humans–tigers, lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, wild buffaloes, gaur, sloth bear, saltwater crocodiles, wolves, etc–have been protected fairly well within such a dense population of human beings. While countering apathy and failures on behalf of the administration, we must keep our faith in the legal and policy framework that has managed this miracle of wildlife conservation in such a densely populated nation. This hasn’t been possible in any other nation with even a fraction of the challenges wildlife conservation in India faces.

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