373 pages, 24 plates with colour photos; colour & b/w illustrations
Wild animals are not confined to an existence inside forests, and much wildlife, including large carnivores, lives in farmlands outside the institutionalized forests, parks, and reserves. Our knowledge base as to how dangerous mammals agree to live in human-dominated landscapes is very scanty because the subtle nuances that help them to manage their lives in such terrains without becoming a problem have not yet been studied by any ethologist. It is only when we can recognize and value the way they live without creating any problems for us, that we can understand the diversions from the otherwise normalized habitat.
Sugarcane Tiger is an exclusive record of the farmland tigers of Tarai. Large carnivores do not always necessarily need true wilderness for survival, and a viable population of mega-predators has always lived in the Tarai farmlands as an integral part of its ecosystems. The author maintains that it gradually developed into an ecotype strain called sugarcane tigers. This unique animal inhabits the biome of sugar plantations by predilection, where a dense canopy of fronds and running irrigation shield a selective holding ground, offering a better home than the jungle.
It was a paradigm-shaking development which the Project Tiger mandarins found unpalatable behind the shield of their rigid scientific dogma, which was in fact their incompetence and ecological ignorance. Of course it was up to them to take key decisions to change the course of events, but they looked at it indifferently, refusing to acknowledge its power. The confusion led to chaos, resulting in an unprecedented spree of man-tiger conflicts, which took a toll of more than 500 human lives and nearly a hundred tigers. In the fateful years of the 80s, the ultra-complex currents malformed the sugar fields of Tarai into one of the most cursed tiger turfs of the world, with Dudhwa farmlands as its epicentre.
The tumultuous phase of cane-tigers lasted for a good forty years around Dudhwa and its adjacent districts, and then gradually faded out due to poaching, poisoning, and trapping, as the charismatic animals disappeared rapidly from their one and only stronghold of the Tarai farmlands.
Today, when foresters are busy devising highly specific input to rescue its token, plausibly ersatz, population; we regret the almost complete decimation of this unique animals, whose only reward for his self effacement and struggle to survive had been persecution by man. There was a chance to save it – yet we missed the bus.
Sugarcane Tiger is a first-hand researched assessment of the farmland wildlife of Tarai, with an intellectual and scientifically sound treatment of its ecosystems that has brought the reality of sugarcane tigers to the surface.
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