1930: Story of the first tiger relocation
6 Jul 2008, 0518 hrs IST, Prakash Bhandari,TNN
JAIPUR: There were no choppers then; it would be another six years before the Germans would build the Focke-Wulf Fw 61, the world’s first practical helicopter. Radio collars then were beyond the realm of even sci-fi. And it would be another 20 years or so before New Zealander Colin Murdoch would invent the tranquilizer gun. This was 1930. Not many then frowned upon big-game hunting, or even realized that tigers would eventually become an endangered species.
But even then, tigers were vanishing from some forests. As the then ruler of Dungarpur – Maharawal Lakshman Singh (his son was the famous cricketer, Raj Singh Dungarpur) – realized in 1928. He became the ruler of this small principality in 1918, when he was still a minor, and then went to Mayo College, Ajmer, to finish his studies. When he returned, in 1928, he found that not a single tiger was to be found in the dense forests of his principality. All of them, it turned out, had fallen prey to shikar .
The Maharawal was furious. As he had been a minor, the principality was being run by a British political agent, Donald Field. He had a fondness for shikar , and it seemed that he and his friends had managed to wipe out the Dungarpur tiger population. Furious, the Maharawal shot off a letter to Delhi demanding an explanation. What followed would make the tiger relocation from Ranthambore to Sariska look like child’s play.
The Britishers saw the Maharawal’s point, and was willing to humour him. They suggested that two tigers be relocated from the jungles of Gwalior to Dungarpur.
A dealer, who was supplying tigers to various zoos, was given the job of getting the big cats for the Maharawal. And so it happened that the world’s first tiger relocation project was set in motion. (Sariska, incidentally, is the second one.) Two tigers – a male and a female – were caught, caged, and put on a train to Talod in Gujarat. But Talod was still some 80 km away from Dungarpur. It seems a miracle the tigers survived the 80-km journey, mostly on bullock carts, and for some stretches, where there were roads, on trucks.
Once the tigers reached the jungle, the Maharawal banned poaching. He even stopped his two brothers from going game-hunting in the forests. The tiger population steadily increased in the forests. At the time of Independence, 25 tigers were reported in the forests of Dungarpur.
“The late Maharawal remained a crusader throughout…. His last great appearance for conservation was at the international symposium on bustards in 1980 in Jaipur,” said Harsh Vardhan, secretary general of Tourism and Wildlife Society of India.
But the Maharawal also killed a tiger. In fact, it was one of the two he got from Gwalior. It was a mercy killing, though. The tiger had lost its teeth, its movement was slow, and the Maharawal was afraid it would become a man-eater. So, one day, he went out with his gun, and shot Bokha (the toothless one), as the tiger was then being called. It has been stuffed and preserved at the Udai Vilas hotel in Udaipur.
And as for the Dungarpur forests, they are empty again. Poachers made sure of that.