Tigers, Lions, and Big Cats: Conservation and Breeding From Becoming Extinct
India is one of the nations in the world with the most varied animal life. There are thick jungles and arid deserts to perpetual snow-covered areas with glaciers and one can realize that it is not without meaning to refer to India as a sub-continent. It is indeed a vast land that is home to almost 30,000 species of animals and birds. The animals that interest me the most are the big cats, the lion, tiger, leopard, and panther.
Early History of the Big Cats
Just about 150 years back India was teeming with the big cats. Lions, tigers and other big cats abounded all over India. India then was home to the famous Asiatic lion which roamed in all parts of India. The tiger ruled the roost in most jungles and the other big cats swamped the forests. The lion was found everywhere and there are tales of great warriors killing lions. This shows that the lion roamed all over India. There is a tale of Hari Singh Nalwa who killed a tiger with his bare hands. This shows that the tiger had his habitat in Punjab but now no tigers are available in this state.
The Lion – Just saved
Unlike the tiger which is more sly and cunning, the lion is a simple animal. Over the centuries the tiger adjusted its habitat and life while the lion could not. There was also the indiscriminate slaughter of lions and slowly the lion began to vanish from the Indian scene. Perhaps the great Asiatic lion would have become extinct, but for the efforts of conservationists and the government. After 1947 these worthies realized that the lion was confined only to one part of India. This was the Gir forest n the state of Saurashtra (Gujarat).
A project on a war footing was undertaken under the aegis of the UN. A large forest reserve was created. The wildlife act of 1959 was also passed. It stipulated imprisonment for up to 10 years for killing a protected species. All the big cats came under the purview of “protected species”. Game wardens began to monitor the lions in the Gir Forest reserve and frequent reports on the state of the lion were called for by the central government. The Asiatic lion thus survived and slowly began to breed as well. Many times the game wardens drop live goats and sheep in the reserve as food for the lions.
The lion is now more domesticated and not as wild as he was earlier. This is a drawback. The tourism corporation organizes conducted safaris through the lion reserve and it’s a pleasure to witness the lion just sitting and relaxing, unlike a tiger that will attack at any opportunity.
Which is your favorite big cat ?
Saving the Tiger
In conjunction with WWF, the government launched “Project Tiger”. At one time the population of Tigers in India was over 500,000. This big cat had its habitat spread all over India. The Bengal tiger is the most ferocious. Indiscriminate killing of tigers by the British rulers and the Maharajahs resulted in the Tiger population dwindling alarmingly. Many maharajahs shot more than 500 tigers and kept their heads and skin as souvenirs. They also organized tiger shoots for their British guests.
These sports were banned after 1947 and the tiger population began to stabilize. Presently the tiger is one of the most abundant big cats in India and its habitat ranges are all the regions and forests of the nation.
Other Big Cats
The panther and leopard are protected animals. There are dozens of cases every year where these cats carry away children from villages. One reason is the paucity of animals for them to feed on. The panther and Leopard is native to all parts of India.
However one big cat the Cheetah has become extinct in India. A few are bred in captivity and zoos. But the sun has set on the Cheetah which was mercilessly hunted by the elite of Maharajas and their ilk as a popular sport. This is sad, but a fact.
Laws protect the Animals
The big cats can breathe easily now. The wild life act is very strong and just for killing an animal( protected species) the jail term prescribed is 5 years. Famous film star Salman Khan learned this the hard way when he was sentenced to a five year jail term for killing a black buck.