Don’t tempt fate even in a zoo

Posted: September 25, 2014 in Wildlife preservation
Tags: , , , ,
Pic Courtesy Hindustan Times

Pic Courtesy Hindustan Times

I think the picture of the day yesterday, horribly so, was the white tiger in the Delhi Zoo staring down a youth crouching in fear, pleading for his life. It said it all. It’s tragic that the young man had to die such a horrible death.

However, even if we treat this as an isolated case of misadventure gone horribly wrong, there is the bigger issue of the way humans behave in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries and the propensity to blame the authorities when something goes wrong – never looking at where we erred. The point is, we really can’t say what an animal will do and when. That is why it is an animal and we as humans are supposed to understand that.  Whether we visit zoos or wildlife sanctuaries we are told to stay within our limits. We are told to respect the privacy and rights of the animals because we are in their territory. Unfortunately, human beings just don’t understand the simple dictum – whether we are in the jungle or we are in a zoo. Sometimes, I think we should be in a cage and not the animals. I’ve seen people sticking their hand through the metal grill of a cage as if the animal is their distant relative they intend to shake hands with! I always wonder how many seconds it would take for a wild animal to react thinking it was being attacked and grab the hand? But then we are Indians, we learn our lessons the hard way – sometimes, not even then.

And of course, our intelligent broadcast media blames the zoo officials for not having security in place. Why don’t we just allow people to climb into the enclosures where the tiger lives along with security and then see what happens? I would understand if the tiger jumped the enclosure and attacked people. Then the question of lax security could be raised. There are signs everywhere warning us not to cross the barriers, not to throw food, not to irritate the animals etc etc, but we never follow those rules do we? Some reports say that the youth was mentally unbalanced others said he was a bhang addict. I guess we can only feel sorry for him and the way he died. One could fault the zoo authorities for not showing up on time to rescue the young man. Whether they really could have done anything to stop an enraged tiger without any tranquilizers is another issue. Some TV channels said that the fencing was too low. Too low for whom man or animal? We all know an animal will attack only if he thinks it is threatened. And it’s obvious the animal felt threatened at the sight of a human in its enclosure.

I saw the video someone sent me. It is taken a little after the youth fell in till he is dragged away by the tiger. The animal seems as surprised to see the youth in his area as the boy seems terrified. First it looks at him and then starts to paw at him, almost playfully. I can’t even imagine the terror the youth must have experienced even if the tiger was just being playful. The caretaker even calls out to the tiger by name (Vijay) and the cat looks up at the caller. It gets enraged only when the people begin shouting and throwing stones at it. It’s a tiger not a dog, who will take to its heels when that happens. Who knows, if the people on top had remained quiet, the youth might have stayed alive long enough to be rescued by the zoo officials. So who’s to blame here? And that is the real problem.

That apart, look at how we behave when we travel on jungle safaris. The forest guide tells us not to disembark from the SUV, but out we go, posing for photographs in the jungle! Funnily, I’ve sat in canters and jeeps with foreigners and I’ve never seen them break the rules. On any jungle safari, we are told time and again by the forest guards that we are intruding into their territory, so we should respect that and stay within our limits. But, no, we have to throw banana peels and bread at monkeys and rush out of the jeep or lean out to take pictures of the deer or any other wild animals in the area. Worse, when we are told to stay quiet, we just cannot keep our mouths shut. So we do the next best thing. We start whispering loudly! I am just thinking who one would have blamed when in Gir, we were charged by a whole pride of lion cubs. And these weren’t babies but pretty huge. We were sitting on our jeeps in a culvert watching the cubs playing when the two of them charged towards us snarling. Thankfully, the driver reversed in quick time. We weren’t even doing anything crazy like getting off the jeep. We were just sitting without making a sound. Would you call that stupid?

However, I’ll give you just two examples of human stupidity. The first was an incident at the Nagzira wildlife reserve a couple of years back. There was this particular watering hole being frequented by a tiger. Thrice it landed up there to drink water only to be disturbed by a horde of screaming tourists who raced towards the spot. We were a little distance away from the spot, but we were told by one of the excited guides that one adventurous young lady thought she could distract the animal so she used her flash. This enraged the tiger so much that it charged at the jeep. It was the screams of other equally frightened tourists that scared the animal away.

The second was at Pench. There was a pair of tigers snoozing in a lake down below where we were parked and as usual, the tourists were calling and hooting to draw the attention of the animals. I guess it is the Indian upbringing – If I’m paying for it it’s my ‘baap ka maal’ – that makes us what we are. After a while, one of the men, a Gujarati, turned to the forest guard in exasperation and said, “Unko hilao na” (Why don’t you shake them up). With pure disgust on his face the guard said, “unko hilaun ga, to woh hum sab ko hila denge” (If I shake them up, they will leave all of us shaking).

It’s a pity, that the youth and onlookers in the Delhi Zoo on Tuesday realised that a little too late.

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