Tigers: India's brand ambassadors

Author Abhilash Khandekar Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2018 (13:51 IST)
Book title: A Decade with Tigers
Author: Shivang Mehta
Publishers: Niyogi books
Pages: 360
Price: 1750/-

are India's pride from anywhichway you look at them. First, they are magnificent creature of the wild, second they head the food chain and then globally speaking, India is the largest and safest home to this rare species of big cat. India today has close to 2250 ( 2226 last census ) tigers in the wild.


Increasingly, this wonderfully striped animal is getting attention of the government as well as the Indian tourists and laymen living in urban India. A tigers's death is prominently highlighted by most of the English newspapers who cater to urban educated Indians.
The foreign tourists have long been interested in them and have been visiting different tiger reserves since decades. No surprise then that the Tigers are labelled as the 'brand ambassadors' of Indian wildlife. 
The latest entrant to the exclusive club of tiger lovers is the new generation photographers and writers who are frequenting the wilds of India in search of this shy and elusive big cat. Not that tiger was not written about earlier but books were limited and were being written by either retired forest officials or handful of experts like Ramesh Bedi or Ranjit Sinh or the prolific writer Valmik Thapar. Of course, some foreigners such as George Schaller ( The deer and the tiger), EP Gee ( The wild life of India) and the world famous Jim Corbett ( Why tigers become man-eaters) have contributed to the original and early classic on tiger, there is no dearth of talented newcomers to the trade in the past few decades.
The book I am reviewing here is done by a relatively lesser known photographer-writer ( I mean he is not the Bedis of India) who can not be put in the category of the above mentioned Indian and foreign tiger experts or writers or, photographers . But that is surely not to take away the credit of the journalist-turned-travel writer and nature lover of some repute. He is quite talented. He has brought out a splendid pictorial book focussing on iconic tigers of a few chosen national parks. The coffee table book is indeed a collector's item for anyone, even distantly related to our forests or wildlife. Though not text-heavy, this book has a unique mix of beautiful images from Bandhavgarh and Pench ( MP),  Ranthambhore (Rajasthan), Tadoba (Maharashtra), and Corbett in Uttarakhand with a running text giving the author's varied experiences of 'shooting' the big predators with his high end cameras.
Tigress like Badi Maa's daughter, the celebrity tigress 'Collarwali' of Pench ( with 26 cubs, she was regarded by Guinness Book as the most productive wild tiger mother in the world) or Panderpauni female ( of the many Queens of Vidarbha, as the author calls them, or Noor ( T-39) or Kalua, Gayatri (T-22) or T-60 and Sultan and other very well known rulers of Ranthambhore tiger reserve ( like Machali-T-16) have been dealt with a great interest by the author. Their lesser known stories have been absorbingly woven in this book along with many stunning pictures of the animal. It's indeed a great joy to flip through the glossy pages to see tiny Cubs, playful mothers and ferocious males and read about them.
Shivang Mehta has covered a period of 10 years during which he has criss-crossed these jungles with his expensive Canon camera units fitted with some rare lenses that have captured for the readers extra-ordinary images of India's national animal under wonderful sylvan settings of different forests. The descriptions of tigers and tigresses is fabulous and shows that the author has not just worked with his shutter speed and watchful eyes but has also dug into history well. See for example, what Mehta writes about a Ranthambhore tigress: " Barely a month after her cubs were seen for the first time, Krishna's fourth cub went missing. It was assumed that the young cub went down to a crocodile as the family was once seen crossing the Rajbagh lake. Krishna was an astute hunter and possessed the capability to bring down large prey. Unlike her sister Sundari, her success rate when it came to large prey like sambar, spotted deer stags, and wild boars, was much better. Her experience as a mother was an added advantage. Krishna had all the makings of great tiger mother, capable of providing the required protection, nourishment and training to the young cubs". 
Understanding tiger, his behaviour and capturing its images in different jungles is not an easy task. For a tourist, it makes no difference which tiger or tigress he or she may have seen but consistently chasing a particular animal, season after season, keeping track of the family and as cubs grow into formidable males or tigresses giving birth to beautiful small cubs require a high degree of patience and perseverance which Mehta has shown while producing this kind of a book. " Water dripped from all parts of my camera as well as from the tiger's body as we both got drenched in downpour and I saw the Collarwali who called for her Cubs hiding in the thick lantana foliage.....it was a unique photographic moment that made me pull out my cameras even in the heavy rains", he writes at one place to describe the challenges of a working lensman.
It's not that the author has only given portraits and life sketches of these heroes and heroines who draw large crowds into the famed jungles and are a kind of money spinners for tiger reserves but he has also dealt with the types of forests and other " denizens of the tiger kingdom" like elephants or the swamp deer for which Madhya Pradesh's Kanha tiger reserve is so famous world wide. Kanha is among the best maintained nature reserves which is, besides the tiger, the hard ground Barasingha has a secured home.  " The early morning mist in forests like Kanha, Kaziranga and Corbett is distinctly different from that of the swampy mangroves of Sunderbans. The colourful sal leaves and mahua blooms of Bandhavgarh are unique; as are Asiatic elephants bathing merrily in the shining blue waters of the Ramganga in Corbett. The Indian one-horned rhino in the grasslands of Dudhwa and Kaziranga complements the black panther, a character straight out of  The Jungle Book, but a rarity in the forests of Western Ghats and Central India, the author says. Although Shivang Mehta has travelled the length and breadth of tiger landscapes, his first love remains the Corbett and the forests of Kumaon.
Interestingly, the book has come out in the market at a time the new scientific estimation and monitoring process has just begun across 50 tiger reserves in India and also,outside it.  Those who want to know how tigers live in dense forests, how their families are raised, how the females take care of the cubs, how do they earmark their territories and protect the little ones from any other predator, which are the main cohabitants of tigers, they should buy this book which makes light and interesting reading. The story telling is quite impressive for a beginner to take interest in tigers and tourism. The book, I am sure,  has potential of turning a lay reader into a tiger lover and a protector of nature. 
Mehta is a former PR professional and not a tiger expert of the category of Rajesh Gopal or Thapar or Ullahs Karanth nor is he a certified biologist from the WII, but his excellent camera work has shown that a 'new tiger' has arrived in the ' jungle'  and has clearly demarcated his own territory. So, beware of this skilled gentleman because landscape of tiger photography in India is changing...follow him wherever he goes in the dense forests in search of the King and Queens!
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