The tiger has always sparked artists’ imaginations, from Rubens and Delacroix, to Bugatti and the mystical Sufi. I am no exception. Tigers prompted my research trip to India in 2015, to find one in the wild to sculpt.
The tiger can measure up to 3 m in length and weigh 350 kg. Every tiger’s stripes are distinctly unique. No two markings are the same. They are also notoriously solitary. There were once eight species of tiger, but during the course of the 20th century three species died out.
The healthiest remaining subspecies is the Bengal Tiger – Panthera Tigris Tigris. It is the national animal of both India and Bangladesh. However, tragically it too faces extinction. Poaching, deforestation, overgrazing, and a growing human population all weigh against tigers. Their future hangs in the balance.
The research trip also had another purpose. I have always had a passion for protecting the natural habitats where wild animals can flourish. It would be so sad if our only experience of animals was through a zoo. As a result, I collaborate with many charities that help to sustain local ecosystems. I hope I can highlight the lasting importance of their efforts.
On this trip I saw the results of a new policy to promote community nature conservancy on private lands outside wildlife sanctuaries. Sudhir Mungantiwar, the Forest Minister, and Dr Debabrata Swain, the Inspector General of Forests and National Tiger Conservancy launched it. I have seen CNC being implemented in Africa, from the Masai Mara to the Serengeti. In brief, the tiger foundation provides compensation to farmers. Therefore man-animal conflict reduces. It also encourages locals to protect their own environment through wildlife conservancy.
Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra was little known until recently. This park offers visitors a rare view of India’s central jungle. With two lakes and open waterholes, it has a healthy population of tigers. At last count, about 70 tigers live in this ideal habitat. I got up close with our brilliant guide Chinmay Joshi. My trip was arranged by Steppes Travel. They collaborate with Travel Operators For Tigers which is a non-profit campaign. It was set up in 2003 to protect tigers and wildlife through sustainable tourism.
As you can see from the images, there is no comparison between a wild tiger and one that you see in the zoo. The whole character of the animal changes in captivity. Not least because he no longer has to fend for himself. Seeing this Bengal tiger dragging a freshly killed samba was so powerful. Such an inspiring thing to witness.
I now have tigers in my head and have to get sculpting!