Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Of tigers and Belinda

In recent times there have been quite a few reports of poaching tigers and rhinos - the two endangered species - in India. And just day before yesterday the Kolkata airport authorities confiscated more than 10,000 baby turtles being smuggled in from China.
This alarming piece of news was preceded by another shocking report in a leading daily few days earlier that India's tiger translocation programme of 2008 at Sariska Tiger Reserve (Rajasthan's Alwar district), which is the first of its kind in the world, was in a shambles with the tigers under threat. In all, nine big cats, including two cubs and five females, were relocated from Ranthambore to encourage cross breeding to maintain a healthy gene pool and genetic diversity.
But illegal grazing by cattle, plying of vehicular traffic and illegal mining in the critical tiger habitat have taken its toll on the conservation effort at Sariska and it was reported that one of the tigers named ST-1 was poisoned to death by villagers. I am a wildlife enthusiast and am drawn to any news about tigers. But sadly, the news are mostly negative. Few months back I visited the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and was lucky to get an eyeful of the majestic tigers which I got photographed and written about in my book The Safari.
I was in Delhi earlier this week to meet Belinda Wright at her residence in the Sultanpur area, famed for its plush farmhouses, on the outskirts of Delhi. I met up with Belinda to freeze a program in Kolkata in the first week of August in which she would be in conversation with me on my book The Safari.
For those who have an abiding interest in wildlife, Belinda needs no introduction. She is a tiger conservationist, wildlife photographer, wildlife campaigner and the founder and executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). Born in Kolkata, Belinda has spent her entire life working in India. She spent more than two years following the secret lives of wild tigers in Kanha and Ranthambore Tiger Reserve for a documentary film.
Thinking of tigers, let me end on a positive note. The BBC reported last month that a female Bengal tiger and a male Siberian tiger have produced three cubs at the Jaguar Zoo in Oaxaca, Mexico, despite being different sub-species. The Siberian tigers are also critically endangered with only 2000 left in the wild. The half-Siberian, half-Bengal cubs, about two or three months old, are doing well.
Another bit of positive news that I read last month was about the Royal Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans. It is estimated that there are more tigers than the 2011 census. The West Bengal Forest Department has said the minimum identified tiger count in the unique natural mangrove habitat stands at 103 based on camera trap stations yielding over 800 convincing photographs of tigers in the wild.
While visiting Belinda, I was quite impressed to see the black and white pictures of Kolkata, dating between 1945 and 1947, adorning the walls of her house. I am hoping she would enlighten the wildlife enthusiasts of Kolkata when she visits the city early next month.
ess bee

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