(On the basis of the writings of Late Shree Ashim Chatterjee)
My father, late Shree Ashim Chatterjee was a renowned environmentalist of the region who worked tirelessly for the protection of the flora and fauna of the region. He was not only an ornithologist of repute but was deeply in love with the biodiversity of Assam and the adjoining North Eastern States. He was among the lucky few who got the opportunity to experience and revel in the organic beauty of the flora and fauna of the North East before it started dwindling and this made him value the biodiversity and wildlife of the region even more in the later years of his life when the environmental condition of the North East gradually started declining. One of the key aspects that he often talked with great remorse to me was about the constant conflict for habitat between wild animals and humans. Over the years, this problem has attained such gargantuan proportion that it has led to wide-scale destruction of life and property for both humans and animals.
All one needs to do is turn over the pages of a newspaper for a week and he/she is bound to find atleast a few news items involving the human-animal conflicts arising out of the above-mentioned predicament. Catching leopards and tigers that simply walk into the human settlements in the city of Guwahati has become a regular phenomenon for the forest department. It is shocking to see such occurrences as tigers mostly live in close knit groups comprising males and females in a perfectly harmonious ratio. This ratio is maintained for better reproduction and careful raring of the cubs. Thus it wouldn’t be wrong to say that coming into contact with humans is the last thing on the bucket list of a tiger as they strictly follow the law of nature.
Sadly for the past few years, they are coming down to the city (Guwahati) for want of food and shelter in the adjoining hills and forests and unnecessarily picking up fights with the humans. Similar situations prevail in the tea garden areas of the state where the problem is even more serious. There have been many instances of tigers coming down to the city at night and preying on the domestic animals of the households situated in close vicinity to the forests and hills.
As a result, these majestic creations of Mother Nature are falling prey to humans and their sense of self-protection at an alarming rate. The forest department sometimes lay traps and catches them in places where their visits are frequent and can be monitored using devices. The animals that are caught end up in zoos where their life is cut short. The reasons for that are lack of fresh and proper food, room to stretch their legs to the optimum level, and most importantly the lack of a reason to live in captivity when they are meant for the pastures. Thus trapping, imprisoning, and putting them away cannot be a permanent solution. In my research for this article, I couldn’t find a single credible solution suggested by an expert to solve this problem plaguing the tiger population.
In my humble opinion, I feel that instead of dispatching them to zoos, they should be re-settled in their own habitat. Necessary steps have to be taken to stop the destruction of their habitat which is even more important than saving the tigers in the first place. Every year during the dry season i.e. from December to April, a large number of leopards are forced out of their habitats. This happens because of the large-scale blasting operations that are carried out by different gangs posing as legal businesses that mine stones, sands, etc around the city. The lack of water and other basic amenities to survive is also a causative factor for this odd migration of the leopards. Another major factor is the rapid extinction of their prey (food) from their habitats that are hunted and taken away by humans on a larger and more organized scale. Under such circumstances, the leopards arriving at our doorsteps in search of food and other amenities should be no surprise.
In the larger picture of Assam’s wildlife, various wild cats like Golden cat, Civet Cat, Leopard cat, Spotted cat, Jaguars, Panthers, and many other species of the cat family were famous and have been described by Christian Zuber in his publication “Animals in Danger”. In his books, Zuber encounters and documents world’s vanishing species. He visited India and made a long trip to Kaziranga. In his book, he describes the status of the wildlife of Assam.
He wrote that no tiger was identical to another. Not only India, in his visit to Colombo Zoo, he saw the Iranian Cheetah and distinguished it from African Cheetah by its longer, thicker tail. It no longer exists in the wild and the male he saw was probably the last living member of its kind. They are the princes of the Jungle and need our care and love to exist in this beautiful world that we co-inhabit with them. Our thoughtful actions today will go down a long way toward ensuring the survival of many such magnificent species of flora and fauna.
Just to imagine that our future generations might not get to experience the charge of an elephant or the roar of a lion in the wild or the flight of an eagle in the blue skies sends shivers down my spine. Where would this generation be without the knowledge of the existence of such majestic beings that walked side by side with us? It is thus a responsibility thrust on the shoulder of every human to do his/her part in ensuring that these creatures survive the juggernaut of industrial and housing development. While I have no concrete ideas on how it can be done, for now, I believe a debate and brainstorming among the experts and the common masses might just be the first and best step forward in a series of steps to bring out concrete changes.