The Fight to Save the Tiger

It’s a sign saying, ‘I am here! I am here!’ ” says Ullas Karanth as he flails his arms and jumps up and down in a mock attention-grabbing wave. He is referring to a scrape, a patch of jungle floor recently cleared by a tiger’s hind paws. It’s huge, the size of a cafeteria tray. Based on the freshness of the uprooted grass along the edges, Karanth figures a tiger passed here sometime last night. I kneel down and am hit by an overwhelming stench—the musky spray of a quarter-ton cat that has just marked its territory.

He is referring to a scrape, a patch of jungle floor recently cleared by a tiger’s hind paws. It’s huge, the size of a cafeteria tray. Based on the freshness of the uprooted grass along the edges, Karanth figures a tiger passed here sometime last night. I kneel down and am hit by an overwhelming stench—the musky spray of a quarter-ton cat that has just marked its territory.

Signs of tigers are everywhere inside Nagarhole National Park in southwestern India. From our forest service lodge we hear the telltale alarm calls of deer in the middle of the night. On early morning drives Karanth, one of the world’s leading tiger biologists, points out paw prints the size of dinner plates. We pass trees with trunks that the cats have raked bare, signposts for rivals and potential mates.

Karanth has deep piercing eyes that can spot a deer a quarter of a mile away from inside a moving vehicle. He prefers, however, to drive with his head sticking out the window so he can read the tracks of every animal that has crossed the path beneath our wheels. Gleefully calling out each animal by name, he seems oblivious as the vehicle swerves alarmingly from side to side.

After days of searching through forests that harbor some of the highest concentrations of tigers in the world, we have yet to see one. Karanth tells me he spent 15 years looking before he saw his first wild tiger. Even when the cats are all around, he says, the odds of seeing one are slim.

A few days later, driving down a dirt lane in neighboring Bandipur National Park, we come across a jeep operated by a local tour company. Bandipur has fewer tigers than Nagarhole, but its dry, open forests make for easier wildlife viewing. The jeep has stopped and its passengers are staring intently. As Karanth pulls up behind them I see stripes of orange, black and white. “Tiger!” I yelp.

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Posted by Activist