‘The Story of George’ that is going places

Frenchwoman’s story about a tiger, who passed away in the city zoo, is a tribute to wildlife conservation

January 24, 2022 12:32 am | Updated 12:32 am IST - Thiruvananthapuram

George, the tiger whom Claire Claire le Mich wrote about, passed away the day after Christmas last in Thiruvananthapuram Zoo.

George, the tiger whom Claire Claire le Mich wrote about, passed away the day after Christmas last in Thiruvananthapuram Zoo.

When Frenchwoman Claire le Michel comes to Thiruvananthapuram next, she will not be able to look in on George, a gnarly, old Bengal tiger, at the city zoo. George passed away the day after Christmas last.

Claire, though, has immortalised George since her visit to the zoo two years ago. He continues to live on through a story by Claire (and translated into English by Jerome Gordon) that has been published on a French blog, aired on radio, and has led to a library project that involves reading, writing workshop, and interaction with children.

On Saturday, George was the star of a reading night at the library in Parthenay in western France where the audience was invited to listen to ‘The Story of George’ and watch videos.

Claire, a writer and dancer, came to the city for a writing residency at the Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum. Keen on writing about a spiritual connect between nature and animals, she got in touch with senior zoo veterinarian Jacob Alexander who took her round to see the tigers, and, of course, George.

The tiger had been captured and brought from the wilds of Wayanad in 2015 after it began straying into human settlements and killing livestock. When he reached the zoo, he was old and frail, his lungs infected with a parasite and maggot-infested wounds, and a missing nose tip. It was touch-and-go, but prolonged medical treatment and some surgeries saw him through.

When Claire saw George, named after the lead character in a popular Malayalam romantic movie, she was touched by the beautiful beast who had roamed the jungles once and who showed remarkable resilience.

Back in France, Claire wanted to talk about George, his story, and man’s relationship with nature. In April 2020, she sat down to write ‘The Story of George,’ and finished the 38th and last episode in September 2021.

The episodes were first published on the blog of a dance theatre company la Compagnie Un soir ailleurs. Then, Radio Gatine, located in Parthenay, decided to record and air the story.

Part real

Claire says the tiger’s story is 50% observation of real situations and reflections on life (“...we are all living the same strange situation for two years all over the world...) and 50% imagination.

The narrator of the story is a magpie called Carbon Crow, and George and the bird have conversations, about life and human beings. Dr. Alexander is also a character in the story, as are some other animals in the zoo such as Gracie, the lioness.

Claire wanted to remain connected to Kerala and as luck would have it, Eva Martin, Director of the Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum, who was moved by the story, decided to be a partner.

Parthenay town has now created a web page with all events and resources connected to ‘The Story of George’. The project will keep going until 2023 through programmes with schools.

Claire says in a few weeks she would like to start an artistic game on the blog to celebrate George. Also on the cards is a web talk with Dr. Alexander and her.

Dr. Alexander says George was around 15 when he reached the zoo, and with proper care and treatment, he managed to live on for six more years. His story highlights the importance of in situ conservation of animals and of nature and wildlife conservation.

Zoos, as a technique of ex situ conservation, also have a role to play in accommodating in near-normal conditions rescued animals that cannot be released back into the wild as in the case of George. The facilities also promote ex situ research that can complement in situ conservation efforts.

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