Sheroo finds Uloo reading a book. The fact that the book is by Jim Corbett sets him thinking…

I was on my way to the water front to have a cool drink as the summer sun was climbing steadily, when I noticed Old Uloo owl still up and reading! Uloo, the last guy who would be up at that part of the day.

“Morning, Uloo, what keeps you awake on a hot day like this?” I asked him. “Just a book, Sheroo,” he said hurriedly tucking it under his wing. “Which one?” I knew Uloo always managed to find good reads. “Well...it's Jim Corbett's...” he looked embarrassed. “Is it Man eaters of Kumaon?” I asked grinning, “have read that one myself.”

Uloo nodded as he slowly pulled back the book to resume where he left off. “Well then, happy reading...” I waved and walked on.

Have you heard of Jim Corbett? He was a famed shikari in pre-independent India who shot down many a man-eating tiger. I don't understand why Uloo is squeamish discussing man eating tigers with me. Just because there are some serial killers and cold blooded murderers, do you label all humans in that category?

In Corbett's time, (late 1800 and early 1900s) the hilly regions of Kumaon and Garhwal had many tigers and leopards who regularly killed villagers and ate them. Unlike now in those days, tigers and people shared the same home, clusters of villages well within the forest limits.

Humans are not tiger food. So how do tigers become man eaters? It may be because of an injury, (caused by a turf war or a poacher's snare).Sometimes an encounter with a porcupine can also result in a prickly paw causing great pain and injury. He is then no longer agile and able to hunt his regular prey. In such a situation, an unsuspecting human loitering in a forest area becomes a soft target.

Another reason is the absence of regular prey base. This happens when forests have been cleared (by man of course) and there is not enough game to hunt. In Corbett's time, there was yet another reason. Many a time when an epidemic broke out and caused mass deaths of humans, the dead were simply thrown down the ravines or left abandoned in the open. As I mentioned earlier, the humans and the tigers lived in the same hilly regions. Finding this easy and free food supply, tigers of those days must have developed a taste for human flesh and thus embarked on a killing spree. Of course, this is like recounting the tale of Count Dracula.

Man- eating tigers are rare today as we have our habitats clearly demarcated. In fact, the only creatures tigers fear are men! But in the Sunderbans in West Bengal and Bangladesh, tigers kill humans every year. People regularly venture into the mangroves there to collect honey, wood and fish in the waters. A crouching human gathering honey or cutting wood is easy prey from behind for a tiger .The tigers there probably think that a man is also a creature of the jungle and hence an item on the menu. This problem will never go away until humans stop venturing into the forests. I guess it is another case of a disputed territory.

mail sherook@wildmail.com

A Children for Animals and Nature Unlimited (CANU) Initiative