REVIEWS: Tiger books

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1998:

Through The Tiger’s Eyes: A Chronicle of India’s Wildlife
by Stanley Breeden & Belinda Wright
Ten Speed Press (POB 7123, Berkeley, CA 94707), 1997. 193 pages, paperback, $24.95.

Fight For The Tiger:
One Man’s Battle To Save The Wild Tiger From Extinction
by Michael Day
Headline (Trafalgar Square, North Pomfret, VT 05053), 1998. 438 pages, paperback, $13.95.

Track Of The Tiger: Legend And Lore Of The Great Cat
Edited by Maurice Hornocker
Sierra Club Books (85 2nd St., San Francisco, CA 94105), 1997.
120 pages, 75 color photos, hardcover, $30.00.

Together, Stanley Breeden and Belinda Wright,
Michael Day, and the eight essayists assembled by Maurice
Hornocker present a reasonably complete perspective on tigers’
century-long slide toward extinction. Filmmakers Breeden and
Wright document poaching and illegal trafficking in India,
emphasizing Wright’s undercover investigations. Day, also an
undercover investigator, describes poaching and trafficking in
Thailand and Taiwan. Hornocker and fellow essayists contribute
background on tiger behavior and ecology. Though all
tigers get attention, the focus is on Siberian tigers, the subject
of Hornocker’s current major field studies.
American readers may recognize Hornocker as the
field biologist whose earlier work helped turn public opinion in
favor of pumas. Now somewhat protected over much of their
range, pumas were at risk of being hounded out of existence
when Hornocker began his studies several decades ago. The
precedent is encouraging, as is the Breeden/Wright prognosis
for Bengal tigers if India gets serious again about saving them.
Indian environment and wildlife minister Saifuddin
Soz on August 8, 1997 requested a budget of $556 million for
wildlife conservation over the next five years, twice the $223
million budget of the past five years, but Soz’ history of permitting
commercial development in and around wildlife sanctuaries
is reportedly problematic.
The current Indian tiger population is officially 3,750,
down from 40,000 at independence in 1947. The British-based
Tiger Trust puts the actual number even lower, circa 2,500.
Yet the loss of tigers was reversed once, Breeden and Wright
point out, and could be reversed again. Under Project Tiger,
commenced in April 1973 with the energetic support of thenIndian
prime minister Indira Gandhi, private conservationists
such as Billy Arjan Singh and public wildlife administrators
such as Fateh Singh Rathore doubled the Indian tiger population
in just 10 years. They unequivocally protected tiger habitat
against human encroachment. When humans and their cattle
were kept from logging and overgrazing the tiger reserves,
both prey species and tigers proliferated.
Much of India, however, still saw cattle as symbols
of Hindu prosperity and tigers as symbols of Sikh resistance to
the Hindu-dominated Indian state: Sikhs, including Billy
Arjan Singh and Fateh Singh Rathore, incorporate the word
s i n g h, meaning t i g e r, into their surnames. Notwithstanding
that the majority of Sikhs have historically favored Indian
unity, Sikh political clout and the cause of tiger protection
were among the collateral casualties after militant Sikhs seeking
the secession of Punjab assassinated Indira Gandhi in
October 1984. Cattle were thereafter allowed into the Indian
government nature reserves, in ever-growing number. Tiger
poaching, formerly rare, exploded into big business. Rathore
found himself transferred and demoted when he tried to stop it.
In an especially dismal chapter titled “Rich Man,
Poor Man,” Breeden and Wright describe how a Moslem laborer
named Mohammed Zayeed informed on three tiger poachers
who were arrested but released on bail. They then got away
with burning Zayeed’s wife, son, and three daughters to death
in front of his entire village. In the same district at the same
time, one Sansar Chand meanwhile brazenly built a tiger
poaching empire. Wright helped to get Chand arrested, but as
apparent result of flagrant corruption he was released without
jail time, and a few months later, Breeden and Wright recount,
“the Uttar Pradesh state government transferred all the officials
who had been handling the Sansar Chand investigations and
prosecution to other places and duties.”
Matters have improved slightly during the past few
years, as result of rising awareness. Breeden and Wright point
out that while the tigers of the Manas, Kanha, Ranthambhore,
Sariska, and Rajaji sanctuaries in particular have been devastated
by poaching and cattle grazing, they could be restored by
a revitalized Project Tiger. The continued success of the
Nagarahole sanctuary, far to the south, shows the way.
The Breeden/Wright account is detailed and thorough,
but perhaps in deference to Indian religious and cultural
sensibilities passes lightly over the ethnic conflicts contributing
to the decline of tigers and other Indian wildlife––which resemble
the conflicts of values among Americans who revere the
cowboy culture and others who would rather see the west
returned to wolves, bison, and grizzly bears.
Breeden and Wright also neglect to mention that
clean, working flush toilets with abundant paper and wildlifeoriented
souvenir stands might indirectly do as much to save
tigers, by encouraging lucrative tiger-based eco-tourism, as
any amount of pro-tiger publicity.
“The people in Sariska and other places may be interested
in saving the forests for firewood and other products,”
they quote Sariskan tiger researcher Shomita Mukherjee, “but
they are not at all interested in saving the tiger. Tigers eat cattle
and goats and sometimes people.”
And Breeden and Wright directly indict the World
Wildlife Fund, whose “sustainable development” slogans the
Indian government embraced following the assassination of
Indira Gandhi: “It is now generally agreed that to have ‘sustainable
development’ of the forests, and to open them up for
the exploitation of minor forest products, has not helped
wildlife. The results have been catastrophic.”
Indeed, in December 1997 alone, seven tigers were
poisoned in the Jim Corbett and Dudwa national parks, apparently
not by professional poachers but by villagers who were
trying to protect themselves and their livestock.
The alternative to “sustainable development” in making
wildlife conservation pay for itself is tourism. Successful
tourism, at tiger sanctuaries, requires that every visitor sees
tigers, be comfortable, and find things to buy. It helps, too,
to maximize photo opportunities. ANIMAL PEOPLE, at
Sariska, found not one souvenir sold locally ––but nearby
towns swarmed with people trying to sell us rugs and marble
statues, which could not be toted in knapsacks. Visitor access
to the wildlife areas was restricted to two-hour jeep trips, available
at 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. only, during which any attempt
to pause to get a photo was inevitably interrupted by other drivers
who seemed unaware that horn-blowing scares wild animals
out of photo range. Two former hunting blinds, described
in guidebooks as ideal for wildlife photography, were disused
and in disrepair. The vegetarian food at Sariska was great, and
the accommodations almost as good as at Yellowstone, yet
tourism revenue is clearly below potential. Thus benefits to the
surrounding region are far less than they easily could be.
In contrast to the multifaceted Breeden/Wright
approach, Michael Day offers more an action/adventure serial,
starring himself. The language is borrowed from Mickey
Spillane, the action largely replicates Wright’s, and the background
is distinctly sloppy. Claims Day in his most ambitious
attempt to explain the global politics of wildlife protection,
“Out of the ranks of the anti-war protesters and the peace movement
came a number of strident activists who saw much that
was wrong with the industrialized world and how it was mistreating
the planet. Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, and
Friends of the Earth were all formed as a result,” culminating,
he continues, in the 1972 adoption of the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species.
In fact, as Day notes in the very next sentence, the
concept that became CITES was advanced by the International
Union for the Conservation of Nature in 1960. CITES was
pushed by Friends of the Earth, founded several years later by
former Sierra Club president David Brower as result of a rift
within the Sierra Club board. A similar rift within Friends of
the Earth later led Brower to found Earth Island Institute.
The World Wildlife Fund, however, was founded in
1961 by trophy hunters, including Prince Philip of Great
Britain, Prince Bernhardt of The Netherlands, and National
Rifle Association president C.R. “Pink” Gutermuth of the U.S.,
none of them ever anti-war protesters or part of the peace
movement. WWF has pushed trophy hunting as allegedly
central to conservation ever since, showing scant interest in
ecotourism and other nonlethal wildlife-based enterprise.
Greenpeace did emerge from the anti-war and peace
movements––but, founded in 1971, had no involvement in the
adoption of CITES, and has had little to do with it since.
Indeed, CITES isn’t even mentioned in The Greenpeace Story,
the 1989 official history of the organization.
Such blunders may echo the misunderstandings of the
average conservation donor, but Day’s job should be to raise
awareness, not to perpetuate confusion. Unfortunately, where
Breeden and Wright present a detailed thesis and a realistic plan
of action, Day just tells war stories. It’s exciting, but so was
The Charge of the Light Brigade, which due to lack of strategy
ended in disaster for all concerned.

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