This is not about poaching, or not even about shooting with the camera. It is about tourists obsessed with the fantasy of wild encounters, about tourists who think seeing tigers in the wild is the only and ultimate wildlife experience. I thought out this essay after spending a day at Corbett National Park in a safari van packed with 20 tiger-hungry people.
I have seen three different types of people who hunt for tigers in our national parks. The first one, I would call naturalists, are true wildlife and wilderness enthusiasts. While they look out for a tiger, they also have a keen eye for the other animals and plants, small or big. They observe with interest a bird of prey flying high in the sky, porcupine crawling in the ground or the vegetation in the forest. They don’t just want to look for a tiger and tick it off the list, but would love to know their behavior, their way of life in the wild, their prey and other such details. They would want to do their bit to conserve these endangered creatures. And when some one says tigers are territorial or that the vegetation is dry deciduous, they are knowledgeable enough that they already know it or understand what it means. These people deserve all the respect from me.
The second kind are tolerable. They have a general love for wildlife and may be some extra inclination to see the tiger. But they don’t have a desperation for it. They are nice enough to honour the rules of the forest to follow at a safari. They are a lot like – “A tiger would be nice, but I can still enjoy the trip”. I have a neutral attitude for these people. But sometimes it is fun to hear them. A friend once said, “let’s go to Bandipur, I want to see the big cats!” Obviously she did not seem to know the fact that big cats are the most elusive animals in the wild. Let us see what she would have thought? That Bandipur is a big jungle holiday managed by tigers, and they greet you wherever you go? Imagine driving into Bandipur, and tigers waiting for you at the park entrance with aarathi and welcome drink! Even better, imagine them singing for you as you come in, may be with some roaring in their voice! Well, tourists of these kind are harmless, curious people. Nothing wrong with it, I guess.
Then there is a third kind of people who are just desperate to see tigers in the wild. They can do anything for it with no regard for the rules and etiquettes of the wilderness. My feelings towards such people borders disgust. A large number of people I met in Corbett during the day-safari were of this kind.
Almost every one in the safari van was talking about tigers, and little else. The only moments of silence is when they busied themselves eating their packed food in the middle of conversations. And food packets, I sincerely hope they did not dispose them off in a bush. Their desperation to see tigers was obvious. After all, everyone they know will ask them when they go back – “did you see the tigers?” The conversation almost always goes like this –
A: How was your weekend?
B: Been to Corbett.
A: Oh! so cool!! Did you see the tigers?
B: (Facing down, sad faced) no yaa, kuch nahi hai, bas bekaar ka trip tha! – No friend, it was a wasted trip. Did not see anything.
A: tsk. tsk.. You know, when my friend went to Corbett two weeks ago, they saw a pair of beautiful tigers from very close. You know last year when Aunty went there, they saw a mother with two cubs! Must be your bad luck.
B: (speechless and trying to change the topic) So how was your weekend?
None of the people in the van would have liked to be in B’s shoes, and their desperation showed up in their chatter.
On the other hand, a glimpse of the tiger has an incredible value. They can go on for days bragging about that glorious moment when they saw the king of the jungle – “What tiger man! It was too cool. So huge you know, and when it walks, it’s just amazing! You should see that really!” And if they get to see some action, they become heroes in their social circles. “Man! You should have seen the tiger chasing that deer. Poor thing was running so fast, but the tiger was too good for it. One moment and it was all over. Life time experience you know!” And that creates another circles of desperados who run to the wilderness next weekend.
The search for tigers started even before we entered the park. While we drove on the National Highway to Nainital, our driver (who doubled up as guide) casually remarked that they sometimes see the tiger on the highway before entering the park too. Soon somebody remarked from the back – Abhi milega kya – is it going to come now? The seasoned driver was patient to such questions and remarks. He cautiously responded – “You can never say, it all depends on your luck”. And the voice from the back shot back – “then when are we going to see the tiger? Not now?” I wonder if this bloke presumed that the staff of the tiger reserve controlled the movement of tigers!
Occasionally, someone burst out to show off their knowledge of wildlife. The most incredible statement that I heard was something I can never forget – “Aren’t leopards born to tigresses!?” Yes, I am not kidding and some one actually said that.
Every conversation had to have the tiger in it –
Driver cum Guide(DG) – “Now we are at the bank of Ramaganga river”
The desperation tourist(DT) – “Does the tiger come here?”
DG: We will be heading in this direction and go towards Dhikala
DT: Are we going to see tigers there.
When we passed an oncoming vehicle, questions were invariably exchanged – ”Kuch dekha” – Saw something? And that “something” always had a definite meaning, not the vagueness that it is supposed to convey.
They were so obsessed that they ignored everything else. I noticed a few beautiful birds and many other animals on the way, but no one seemed to care much. The landscape of Corbett is incredibly beautiful, but they were blind to it. Most of the local naturalists and jeep drivers also seemed to be fed up of these tiger hunters. Later, while I was speaking to a naturalist, he echoed my feelings – “It is such a beautiful place, but sadly few people notice that. They just run behind the tigers.”
This lack of ‘seeing’ went too far at some point. We once saw an animal under the shade below a tree and stopped for a better look to see what it was. I peeked through my telephoto lens and figured that it is a sambar deer.
Me: It is a sambar deer
DT: Oh! It is only a deer!! I thought it may be something!!
I pity the sambar for having to go through such an identity crisis – it is not even “something” anymore!
After we had spent a few hours driving without ‘sighting’, the impatience was becoming more and more evident. Someone barked to the driver from the back – “What is this? You are just showing us forest and only forest. Where is the tiger? Show us the tiger!” By this time, my disgust had turned into pity, so I was quiet and just listened to the conversation. The poor driver, who was probably used to this in every trip he made, gently remarked – “Well, Tigers live in the forest, where else could we go?”
Another few hours, and before the safari was about to end and we were heading back to the town – the desperate folks seem to have realized that they had lost the game. Someone gave a last cry of desperation – “You did not show us the tigers, at least now show us some elephants!” By the time we returned, no one seemed to be happy. To be fair, among the twenty or so in the bus, I remember a family of three who often looked keenly at the birds, flora and other animals were the only ones who did not seem to be complaining. Everyone else seemed to be thinking that they just wasted their good money.
These ‘tiger hunters’ were not only impatient, they were not the most disciplined. They made loud noises in the safari van. They never understood the need to be quiet if they wanted to see the tiger. They never respected the sanctity of the forest. noticed one of them throwing away a plastic bottle right next to a sign that said not to throw plastics in the jungle. Even if they did spot the tiger, they would probably shout and shriek with excitement and not only spoil their own chance, but also disturb the tiger. Such people are a bane in our national park, and sadly we have many of them. I hope you, the reader is not one of them but belong to the first type I mentioned earlier. And I hope you educate your friends and your people not to be one of the desperate kind.
More on Corbett National Park at paintedstork.com
* Images from Corbett
* Arriving at Corbett
* First day at Corbett: safari day trip to Dhikala
* Corbett: In the nature – A struggle between fear and love
* The desperate tourist’s tiger hunt
* Photo Essay: Landscapes of Corbett
* My Days in Corbett
* Encounter with Pachyderms
* Information about Corbett National Park
* Moving on from Corbett