Hugh Paxton’s Blog was chatting to the director of a national park in India about tiger conservation over bowls of soup and the conversation was, of course, intriguing. Man-eating tigers popped up gently disguised as “Human wildlife conflict”. This is an issue wherever people cohabit territory near to, or occupied by, potentially dangerous non-human species. Tigers do kill people. To pretend otherwise would be naïve. This chap had the unenviable task of appeasing the families of four people killed by the same tiger. I won’t name him, or the Tiger Reserve but he said one thing that appealed to me. “As a conservationist I was glad it killed two of my men because there is no public fuss.” I got what he was saying immediately. If a soldier is killed it is socially acceptable and merits few lines, if a fireman dies of burns it is a tragedy but that’s his or her job, if a war journalist gets beheaded obviously the media starts to feel heroic about their profession and squawks but that is wafer thin in terms of moral courage. This Indian man weighed the odds of conservation, the importance of the goal, and although he felt distressed by the two deaths, felt relieved they had not been civilians. Or, Gawd help us, foreign tourists! The other two probably shouldn’t have been where they were. Poachers? Encroachers?
We discussed a lot more but that’s between us.
Shortly afterwards I got the attached pictures from Chang. He’d successfully made it to Myanmar/Burma to get a passport and a tiger had just killed two of his local villagers. This puts Chang in a quandary. He’s spent four years in my employ and is what I would describe as an animal lover. He rescues everything. Quite often it survives. He knows that my beloved wife and I are very keen on tiger conservation and here he is involved in a man eating tiger hunt. I saw the pictures of one of the victims (I’m sparing you that but anybody in the medical profession wouldn’t be disturbed). He’d just been swiped by a heavy paw and it had scooped a load out of his back. In this case the tiger needed shooting. The paramilitaries and villagers did it. A tiger’s a cat. It comes back and pound for pound, muscle for muscle, it is the most dangerous cat on the planet, a solitary, nearly invisible hunter. Imagine a leopard. But twice the size. The key element in this particular conflict is ensuring that it doesn’t happen again. Quite how Chang and I are going to arrange that may take a bit of thinking! But the tiger’s body is now in a shrine and will remain there for three days. This is partially to stop it reappearing as a were-tiger (a prevalent fear in SE Asia) and partially to sort things out spiritually. In Chang’s case it will also be all about making sure the tiger gets burned and no bits are taken for sale on the black market.
I’ll post a few more lively photos of tigers in my next blog!
From: Chang Htoo [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Hugh Paxton
tiger killed two guys close our village.