“THE question of questions for mankind—the problem which underlies all others, and is more deeply interesting than any other—is the ascertainment of the place which Man occupies in nature and of his relations to the universe of things. Whence our race has come; what are the limits of our power over nature, and of nature's power over us; to what goal we are tending; are the problems which present themselves anew and with undiminished interest to every man born into the world.” –Huxley, Thomas Henry. Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature. 1863
Despite all the volumes of knowledge gatheredover the past 150 years in response to Huxley’s “question of questions”, it’s commonplace for us to forget that we merely occupy a place in nature, we don’t own it. In exerting our “power” through sheer numbers (7 billion and growing), we have bulldozed through populations of other large animals: animals who have traveled through even more formidable evolutionary journeys, than ours, to occupy their tenuous space in nature. And, what’s even more alarming is that we have done so with pride.
In India, interactions between humans, and tigers, leopards or elephants in and around jungles have been labeled as conflict—conflict for space, conflict for food, and conflict for survival. The humans in question are the 833 million rural Indians who still live off the forests for their basic food, energy and sanitation needs. They need the forests in the same vein as the animals they come in conflict with. The result is lives lost. There are no winners in this conflict.
In such moments, I am reminded of incidents where so-called “wild” animals have demonstrated how conflict can be avoided, cohabitation can be maintained, and how the battle can be won without bloodshed.
Our WWF-India team has been monitoring an adult tigress, using camera traps, since October 2012 when she was seen with three cubs in a sugarcane field in Amaria area of Pilibhit. Amaria is a non-protected agricultural area with dense human population of around 100,000, which makes it a strange choice for a nursing tigress. At the time we thought that the tigress had left the forest to protect her cubs from other carnivores with the intention of returning at a later stage.
We were wrong. The tigress reared her cubs in sugarcane fields outside the forest for a period of twoyears. We expected her to return to the forest when harvest season denuded the sugarcane fields of her cover; to be honest, we hoped she would return to diminish the growing possibility of confrontation between her and the villagers. But the tigress had other intentions. She found a new home in the grassy area along the River Dehra and adapted to the living conditions of her dense human surroundings without conflicting with her human neighbours. During discussion with villagers, we also noticed that they were not too perturbed by the presence of the tigers as it kept herbivores at bay. Raes Ahmad Boora, a farmer from the area said that the tiger was no bother to them, that she has no option but to run when humans have invaded her forests. Two year later, the cubs followed their mother’s lead and learned to live outside the protection of the forest,in areas densely populated with humans.
After August 2014, the tigress ventured alone downstream of River Dehra and reached the banks of the Ganges near Kanpur. Despite being even more densely populated than the area she left behind, the tiger has managed to live peacefully in the area. She is being routinely monitored by WWF-India and partner organisations.