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The unsung heroes of tiger conservation

 

What makes a great event? Or maybe the question is really what makes a great party… recently I attended my dream party.

What could be better than Mayfair as a location, true stories from anti-poaching rangers and vivid tiger photography from the field of conservation – all exhibited in the gallery reception rooms of the cultural wing of the High Commission of India.

Framed photos at the Tiger Talk exhibitionFramed photos at the Tiger Talk exhibition

The ‘Inspiring Natural India’ event took place on 20 May. The photographic exhibition, ‘Tiger Talk’, celebrates the unsung heroes of tiger conservation and provided the perfect platform for engaging people with our work and promoting much needed discussion. Speeches by staff from WWF-India explained conservation goals we hope to achieve in India.

The exhibition takes an in-depth look at the real-life experiences of anti-poaching rangers, mahouts and tour guides who operate in tiger territory. Their stories expose the lengths they have gone to and risks taken to protect tigers and also describe human-tiger conflict from the perspective of the local people.

The discourse prompted by this event is something that we hope to achieve more often as we focus on India as a priority place – including the protection of iconic species and the landscapes they live in that are inherent to national heritage.

We’ve been working to protect the tiger through our work across India for nearly 40 years. This includes supporting the forest departments in various states of India and in helping curb the illegal wildlife trade.

Conservation work needs support from everyone and this often starts with people who have the strongest ties to the country. Watching guests from the world of academia, politics, media and business talking with each other and our supporters and colleagues from the UK and India definitely demonstrated the need for everyone across fields and countries to come together for conservation.

Guests at the Tiger Talk exhibitionGuests at the Tiger Talk exhibition

Talking to guests was interesting as we shared stories about our links to India, conservation and tigers. Some were just visiting the UK, some –  I was told – own land in India close to tiger territory and some – like my Grandfather – were born there.

It is a powerful feeling when so many people from different backgrounds come together to discuss tigers. The event was a positive step in sharing our work, enabling us to inspire a community with the truth behind the conservation of a national icon.

A great party has to be a real celebration and these ‘Tiger Talk’ stories, of people who put their lives in danger to protect tigers, are definitely worth celebrating. The best thing about it though is that the stories encourage people from countries far away from India to engage with tiger conservation, which can help to inform our work in the field.

Tiger facts

Over the last century wild tiger numbers have plummeted by over 95 percent. Poaching and habitat destruction are persistent threats and as few as 3,200 tigers remain in the wild today.

Sumatran tiger© WWF-Indonesia / Tiger Survey Team

A Ranger’s story

What do you do after you recover from a brutal tiger attack? If you are Subedar Ali, you go back to work for the animal’s cause.

Subedar Ali accompanied another mahout, his neighbour and friend Kutuban, to the forest to collect fodder for their elephants. Subedar moved ahead looking for low-lying branches. He climbed a tree and started chopping branches for the elephant to feed on when an explosive burst, like a shot from a cannon, brought him down in a flash. He found himself staring into the eyes of an angry tiger. The big cat gripped Subedar’s shoulders and ripped his skull apart.

Subedar-Ali © Manoj Kumar JainSubedar-Ali © Manoj Kumar Jain

After around 20 minutes Kutuban arrived on the scene hearing his friend’s cries. The tiger let go of Subedar, but sat just five feet away, growling, guarding its trophy.

After seven surgeries, thirty-six bottles of blood and many months in the hospital, Subedar Ali made a complete recovery. Today, Subedar Ali is an Anti-Poaching Patrol Leader in Corbett National Park. He and his team study tracks, trails and other signs in the forest and report on the movement of poachers. Is Subedar worried of another tiger attack? “Not really”, he says. “The only animal in the forest that scares me is a lone tusker.”

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