Big Cat SOS

Avatar BCR | September 30, 2009 10 Views 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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Caged tiger! The South Khairbari Leopard Safari and Rehabilitation Centre in western Dooars houses ten Royal Bengal tigers, an endangered species.

Big Cat SOS

A tiger rescue centre in West Bengal struggles to live up to its promise.

Sankar Ray
Rajen Pradhan
Friday, Sep 25, 2009

Neither the Asia regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Grace Gabriel, nor well-known wildlife conservationist Judy Mills know of Ram, Sita, Lakshmi and seven others like them residing in Khairbari, in western Dooars of north Bengal. They are Royal Bengal tigers, an endangered species. Their present, and perhaps last, home is the South Khairbari Leopard Safari and Rehabilitation Centre (SKLSRC) set up four years ago by the West Bengal Government wi th the sanction, including financial assistance, from the Central Zoos Authority under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The ten big cats and some of the leopards at the centre are suffering from serious ailments, and the minimum care they deserve is missing.

There was a time when these same Royal Bengal tigers enthralled hundreds of children and adults alike at famous circuses across the country. Their agility and prowess understandably diminished with age. They were mostly rescued from the circuses — some were voluntarily handed over by circus owners who could no longer afford to maintain and feed them. When the centre was first set up, there were big promises. It was supposed to help treat rescued injured tigers in the Sunderbans too. The centre was also seen as a potential tourist attraction capable of earning valuable foreign exchange. But the high expectations seem belied.

This happens to be the lone tiger rescue and rehabilitation centre in eastern India, and the rare species — past their prime in hunting — need specialised clinical and health care. The attending vets are largely part-timers and none are specialised in treating big cats. The tragic circumstances leading to the death of a male Royal Bengal tiger last year adds to the general mood of pessimism. Karna of Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary was bitten on the tail by another tiger, Shyam, leading to a serious infection and damage to the veins connected to the spinal cord. Karna’s rear was paralysed within 48 hours of the bite and the vets were unable to administer saline after the tail was amputated. The then chief conservator of forests (wildlife) N.C. Bahuguna said, “It is very difficult to locate veins in a tiger body, apart from those in its tail. Our doctors somehow managed to push a bottle of saline. But that wasn’t enough. The injury extended to Karna’s spinal cord and his anus. Hence he could not be saved.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare strongly condemns the “neo-liberal neglect” of big cats the world over and the support for “tiger farming”. Commenting on a recent TV show that advocated breeding tigers on industrialised farms to help save those in the wild, the Asian regional director of IFAW, Grace said, “It is inconceivable that profit and bottom line was the only lens through which 20/20 approached the issue of tiger farming. Every player in that trade chain is criminally responsible for the depletion of tigers in the wild, from poachers to smugglers to traders and to those who promote tiger trade: investors and owners of tiger farms.”

With the right scientific and clinical approach, tiger rescue centres such as the one in Khairbari can serve as a true sanctuary for this endangered magnificent animal.

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