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In the forest of the night

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BURNING BRIGHT The tiger's tale
BURNING BRIGHT The tiger's tale

A multi-pronged approach to the problems of tigers and humans is what can possibly save the big cat, says Shekar Dattatri, director of ‘Truth About Tigers'

“If we as a nation cannot protect our national animal, what can we protect,” says the voiceover at the conclusion of the 40-minute documentary ‘Truth about Tigers' written and directed by renowned Chennai-based wildlife filmmaker and enthusiast, Shekar Dattatri.

Why tigers disappear?

The documentary talks about the way in which, and the reasons why, tigers are disappearing from our forests at an alarming rate. Shekar says, “A lack of trained officials in the forests, the rising demand of tiger products from China, human-animal conflict inside tiger reserves, and reduction in amount of prey are the main reasons that tiger numbers are dwindling in the country.”

The documentary, shot with videos from tiger reserves across the country, discusses all these issues in some detail and talks about the solutions to this problem. “Most of the material came from people across the country. We shot for nearly two years.”

Shekar contends, “Political will is very important in the battle to save the tigers. It was due to the efforts made by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s that saved the magnificent beasts from extinction. We need to have better trained guards equipped with better weapons to deal with the poachers. As the film shows, in many cases the guards are aware of poachers in the vicinity, but have no training or equipment to deal with the armed poachers.”

Explaining the strategy that most poachers use, Shekar says, “Tigers are territorial animals, which use a similar path, all their lives. Once the poachers recognise this route, they lay traps, which are well hidden. The tiger is then beaten to death or speared through the mouth, to ensure that the skin does not lose its value.”

He says, “Often nursing mothers are killed by the poachers. Their cubs are not able to survive without them and die of hunger or are attacked by other animals. The death of a single tiger could result in an entire family being eliminated.”

Human habitation is another cause of worry that the tiger faces, according to many environmentalists. “Most people living in these forests are ready to move out, as long as they are provided basic amenities by the government. Incessant grazing of forestland by cattle and clearing of forestland by people results in a shortage of prey for the tigers.”

Shekar says that a career in wildlife filmmaking is fairly difficult in India.

“You need to deal a lot with government red tape and wait for days at a stretch for a small shoot for permissions from a cross section of officials. Getting funds is tough when you start out in the profession. It takes a long time to get recognition. You need to have a clear idea of what you want to shoot and have to be patient to get the best shots. ”

Childhood fascination

He was always fascinated by wildlife since childhood. “I was never serious initially about it as a career. In 1984, an American couple, John and Louise Riber, came to Chennai to make a film on snakebites. They knew very little about snakes, and I knew nothing about filmmaking, so we learnt from each other. It took many years of trial and error and learning on the job, before I won some acclaim for a movie on the Silent Valley. An Inlaks scholarship followed, and helped me hone my skills and gave me confidence to take new projects.”

NIKHIL VARMA

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