The tiger and its forests are succumbing to the relentless aggression and greed of earth’s most dangerous animal, Homo sapiens, Photo: Nikhil Devasar/Sanctuary Photolibrary
The earth can actually heal the wounds we have inflicted on it just as easily as cuts and bruises heal themselves on our bodies.

It was a very cold, moonlit night and we were in a Jeep. Fateh spoke in hushed whispers, breath misting as he muttered, only half to himself… “Yahin kahin hai.” We waited. Five, then ten, then 15 minutes, teeth chattering, listening to the night sounds of cicadas, nightjars and owlets. Then, quietly, Fateh pointed to my camera indicating that I should get ready. Scarcely breathing, I thought something moved, but could still see nothing. “Arre aagaye, saamne dekho!” said Fateh impatiently. And then I saw them materialize from the inky darkness—not one, not two, but what looked like four tigers. We carefully retreated to give them space, tyres crunching on dry, fallen wood, but the great cats had other ideas. As their mother settled on the dusty forest path 15 metres ahead of us, her three curious cubs, one male, two female, moved towards us and sat, literally, within touching distance. I felt blessed. We sat motionless for 30 minutes more, breathing ‘tiger air’ before driving back to Jogi Mahal, the heritage structure that was a home away from home for me and my Mumbai-based family.

Fateh Singh Rathore, the legendary forest officer of Rajasthan’s Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, was my friend and ‘tiger guru’ for decades till he died in March last year. His was a simple formula for tiger conservation—remove human impacts and let nature heal itself. 
It worked. Where marginal farms, thousands of rib-thin cattle and poachers’ traps dotted the dry deciduous forest when Project Tiger was launched in 1973-74, within a decade Ranthambhore began to sport lush lakes, wild fruit trees, grasslands, herds of deer, wild pigs and birds of all descriptions. To some degree or other, all of India’s tiger reserves witnessed similar renewals in the mid-1980s, each using a common strategy—protect the forest to protect the tiger—allowing nature to do the rest. In the process millions of species received a second lease on life and Project Tiger became justifiably recognized as the world’s most successful conservation undertaking.

But it was not an easy ride. Our forest staff and officials risked life and limb daily to implement India’s tough, new Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, with the fullest backing of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Her determination was in turn fuelled by visionaries such as Mrs Anne Wright of the World Wildlife Fund, and Dr Sálim Ali and Zafar Futehally of the Bombay Natural History Society. After centuries of

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