email a friend iconprinter friendly iconThe War on India's Tigers
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In one respect, 18 cats wouldn’t seem so significant. People have been killing tigers on the subcontinent since at least 3000 B.C., with cave paintings in central India depicting them surrounded by spear-toting stick men. Indian nobility for centuries staged elaborate tiger hunts, but it wasn’t until the British arrived in the 1800s that the full-on slaughter began. In Tiger: The Ultimate Guide, naturalist Valmik Thapar describes a trophy race that lasted well into the 20th century: “New records continually replaced old ones. A Colonel Rice killed and wounded 93 tigers between 1850 and 1859. Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Cummings killed 173 tigers in 1863 alone.” Not to be outdone by the Brits, Indian royals chased outrageous bag numbers themselves. The maharaja of Nepal nabbed 295 tigers between 1933 and 1939, including 120 during one ten-week stretch. The maharaja of Gwalior killed 700 in his lifetime.

If estimates of 100,000 tigers in India at the turn of the 20th century are accurate, then the population had plummeted to nearly one percent of that by 1970 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi outlawed tiger hunting. By the time Khandal conducted his count in 2004, 18 missing tigers was huge. Something was seriously wrong, and Khandal knew it.

He typed up his report and submitted copies to the head of the park, deputy field director G. S. Bhardwaj, as well as to forest service higher-ups. The next day, Khandal was denied entrance into Ranthambhore. According to Khandal, Bhardwaj told him that, in no uncertain terms, there were exactly 43 tigers here, and that unless he backed off his report, the forest service would make life difficult for him. “I was new,” Khandal says. “I was scared. I began to doubt my own report.” Shortly after, Bhardwaj made good on his promise. He accused Khandal of killing and removing a rare snake from the forest, then banned him from the park.

Calling Khandal a snake killer was definitely not the way to go. He immediately contacted journalists around the country, and they ran stories about his report on the 18 missing tigers in Ranthambhore. “Species discovery is my passion,” he says, “and these people blame me for killing snakes? Bhardwaj made it personal. Until then the fight had been for truth, but when it got personal, that’s when I got energized.”

By early 2005 India’s tiger-poaching crisis had taken on a life of its own. A front-page exposé in one of the country’s leading newspapers, The Indian Express, claimed that Rajasthan’s other tiger sanctuary, Sariska, had no more tigers at all. Zero. Forest service officials vociferously denied this, but the article sparked a national firestorm, and India’s prime minister demanded answers. A blue-ribbon task force also confirmed what Khandal had been saying about Ranthambhore, and then some—the park was missing not 18 cats but 22. The tiger, a national symbol of India, was disappearing from its most high-profile sanctuaries, and no one knew why.

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  • Life of this man is really worth meaning
  • This is a great article. I have heard a lot about Dharmendra Khandal and his efforts to save tigers …
  • every park in this country should have an independent team working on the lines of Dharm but this is…
  • Being a huge wildlife the Jungle calls me every few months . I have seen tigers in Sariska ,Ranthamb…
  • Being a huge wildlife the Jungle calls me every few months . I have seen tigers in Sariska ,Ranthamb…
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