Artificial Heirarchy of the JungleThe Tiger Fixation

May 12, 2011

I do understand that the tiger is an icon of the Indian jungles, and it is endangered, probably critically so. It’s always been the dream of the wildlife enthusiast, and the wildlife photographer, to get a sighting, and a good photograph, of the tiger.

But the fixation with the tiger may be totally counter-productive. It creates a skewed view of the jungle in the mind of the wildlife visitor, who thinks the jungle, and all its denizens, is but a background for the tiger.

As we get more obsessed with tiger sightings and photo ops, more and more animal-unfriendly measures (such as the Tiger Show in some of the northern national parks, and leaving bait for tigers) are being resorted to by resort owners and tour operators to bring in the visitors, and the money. Unhealthy, unethical and sometimes downright dangerous practices are adopted to get that much-in-demand tiger sighting, that tiger image.

What saddens me is that this tiger-mania seems so all-pervasive. If even more experienced wildlife enthusiasts do nothing but post photographs of the tigers, are they not sending the same message to people who are just getting interested in wildlife…that only the tiger is important, nothing else is?

When we were in Kanha, there was a family in the next room. Like many other visitors, they constantly bemoaned the fact that in three days they had not seen a single tiger, and said their visit was an utter waste. Finally, I invited the children over to our room, told them I was going to take them on a “photo safari”…. and showed them the photographs of everything else but the tiger, that I had shot in the last two days. I explained about the birds, the deer, the various plants.

The next day, the parents came along and asked if they could see the photographs too. The mother told me, “We never realized how much else there is in the forest to look at, today we have enjoyed our safaris very much and are not bothered about tiger sighting.” I don’t know if they ever saw a tiger…but certainly, their visit became a fruitful one instead of being barren just because they had seen no tigers.


is an excellent article by Madhusudhan Katti…who, I think, says it much better than I do!

As more and more wildlife visitors visit the jungles, and more and more stress is laid on tiger sightings, I wonder whether we are actually pushing this animal further towards extinction. We recently had a face-off with one resort which “guaranteed” a tiger sighting to its visitors. They finally did change the wording on their website, and I do hope they are not leaving bait to ensure tiger sightings, which is,unfortunately, a widespread practice in our wildlife resorts.

Alas, I find this kind of obsession in all the wildlife fora I belong to. A tiger’s photograph gets 122 comments…the picture of a very rare butterfly…about four!

IF, as a wildlife visitor, I see a tiger…well and good. But if I don’t…there are SO many other animals and birds and trees and insects and reptiles and amphibians and algae to see, observe and learn about…that no tiger is also well and good!

Vikram Nanjappa

mentioned on his blog that once someone asked him, “Oh, you didn’t see a tiger? Did you at least spot a leopard?” This kind of artificial heirarchy that we seem to create in the natural world is ridiculous. We may term some animal as being at the “top” of the food chain. But I believe that the food chain is cyclical, not pyramidal.

The world is not human-centric just because our species is over-running every other mammalian species, and similarly, the jungle is not tiger-centric just because they are more elusive than, say, deer or mongoose….just the plant world is not lantana-centric just because it is over-running other plant species.

In fact, go through the blogs of experienced wildlifers like Vikram or


and see how often tigers are featured. Certainly Karthik has dinned this lesson into me for years now! Look at the way Vikram photographs deer, macaques, otters, and the way Karthik is able to spot drama and wonder in the smallest of living creatures. On a nature trail with Karthik, we joke that at the end of three hours we might not have moved more than a few inches…but we would still be amazed and stupefied at what we have seen!

I think it’s up to all the more experienced wildlife enthusiasts to create the awareness that Nature is important in ALL her forms and beings, and that no one animal, whether the lion or the tiger, is the lord of the jungle. The tiniest ant, scuttling along on the forest floor, is as important a part of the world of Nature, as the largest elephant which roams the jungles.

Let’s learn to observe and enjoy everything that we see in nature…and our enjoyment will be far more, and our knowledge, too, will be more holistic and we can move towards a balanced understanding of how our world is.

I am no scientist…just a layperson, and this my point of view….