An Audience with a King
In India’s Ranthambore, Kanha and Bandhavgarh National Parks, the top prize is always a tiger and it was these beautiful creatures that we desperately yearned for during our ‘Land of the Tiger’ holiday. Thanks to brutal persecution and masterful camouflage, this was a goal that was never going to be easy. After several stripe-free game drives in Kanha National Park, an adult male tiger named Munna finally strode into full view. We’d hit the jackpot.
After spending many hours scanning every bush, river channel and path, it was actually difficult to believe what I was seeing. Tigers are notoriously elusive and there is so much thick cover that they can be invisible even if they are just a few metres away. So when Munna ambled on to the path ahead, my heart skipped a beat, my eyes moistened then opened wide to make sure they recorded the experience to my memory rather than just to megapixels. Having already enjoyed some fantastic but short-lived sightings of other tigers, I wanted to ensure I made the most of this encounter while it lasted. But Munna was in no hurry to slink off. He was on the lookout for a mate and he was heading straight towards our jeep.
It was only as he strolled serenely down the path towards us that his true size and majesty became apparent. With feet the size of dinner plates, rippling muscles and a fearsome stare, no one could fail to be in awe of such a magnificent creature. As he got close, the driver respectfully retreated, only for Munna to reach us again.
Over the next 45 minutes we covered a distance of about 2km with tiger approach and jeep retreat being repeated again and again. During this time I savoured every nanosecond in the knowledge that I unlikely to ever be this lucky again. The challenge was to make sure I looked at him with my own eyes and not just through the camera lens.
Munna stopped to mark trees and bushes in his territory. He bellowed several roars – spine-tingling sounds that cannot be fully appreciated or respected unless witnessed in the wild. I will never know what he thought of us or indeed if he thought anything much about us at all. This was the king of the jungle in his realm and we were courtiers paying him deserved homage. It is heart breaking to think that there are those who would kill him without a shred of remorse. Munna deserves to live. He deserves to reign supreme.
The Plight of tigers
Tigers are teetering on the edge of extinction in the wild. Despite their desperately low numbers and concerted efforts to protect them, they are still suffering at the hands of man. The lure of huge profits by the Chinese medicine industry and conflicts over land use are still driving unscrupulous individuals to kill them. However, while tigers exist and tourists make efforts to see them, there is still hope. The tourist industry provides countless jobs for drivers, guides, park officials, hotel staff, souvenir sellers and many more. While tigers have such a high value to the local economy, there is good reason for local people to protect them. And it is the people who live alongside tigers who are in the best position to protect them.
Exodus has been supporting projects to help tigers for many years. We support projects which directly aid tiger conservation and projects which help those that live closest to them so that local people really feel that tigers are Worth More Alive. Our efforts have been focused in Bandhavgarh National Park. To find out more please see our project page.
In April 2010 Paul Goldstein ran the London Marathon in a nine-foot high, aluminium-framed tiger costume. He raised £22,000. In Bandhavgarh National Park, one of the last strongholds of India’s wild tiger population this money is being used for the following:
Purchasing metal detectors to locate snares
Purchasing gas cylinders to limit foraging for firewood, removing the chance for tiger conflict
To supply solar lights to the park for night time surveillance
Purchasing helmets with LED lights plus solar chargers for the patrol guards
A proportion also went to the local school, which Exodus donations have helped to rebuild
In 2011 Paul plans to go one better. Actually four better. He will be running 100 miles in four marathons, in one week, again sporting his distinctive tiger costume. So if you see a large tiger running in Brighton, Manchester, Cardiff or London, please shout some encouraging words – he’s going to need them!
And please take a photo so you can enter our ‘One Pound for Tiger Found’ competition – details to be revealed soon!
Please Sponsor Paul’s Marathon Effort
In reprising and multiplying last year's effort, Paul and the team here hope to raise even more money and more awareness about the plight of this creature.
Please show your support by sponsoring him via his Worth More Alive II Just Giving page or attending one of Paul’s new fund-raising ‘Endangered’ evening presentations in Exeter, Edinburgh, Brighton, London, Manchester or Cardiff – entry fee just £10.