Renowned environmental activist and Sanctuary Asia founder Bittu Sahgal tells Shikha Jain how each of us can help save the tiger
The future of India’s iconic big cat remains uncertain; and if they go, we go. On International Tiger Day, Bittu Sahgal, renowned environmental activist and founder of Sanctuary Asia, takes us through his journey and more…
Rescued by nature
There was no plan. Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans. I was slated to be an advertising and marketing guy, but I got saved because I fell in love with nature and then she took me by the hand and led me to where I am today, 50 years later.
I loved the ‘Old Man’, Salim Ali and I learned from him not to take myself too seriously… to trust that nature knows best… never to be over sentimental about nature conservation… to understand that my involvement would have more to do with species rights than individual animal rights. And to retain my sense of humour in the face of adversity from both circumstances and people who did not want us to keep nature wild.
Sanctuary was born of an impulse decision made on a dark night at a campfire under Jogi Mahal’s famous banyan tree in Ranthambore, on the suggestion of the late Fateh Singh Rathore, my tiger guru. He said there were thousands of magazines on subjects such as politics, sports and films… but not one on wildlife. I said I would start one. And Sanctuary was born. That was 37 years ago. And today the magazine has turned into a movement guided in part by the Sanctuary Nature Foundation.
Are tigers safe now even after 50 tiger reserves? No. Because our politicians and planners continue to back short term profit and vote imperatives, forgetting that an entire generation’s survival assets – forests, grasslands, wetlands, coasts, rivers – are being consumed. Without their wild homes, how can tigers be safe? How can we be assured of safe tomorrows?
Kids for Tigers, the Sanctuary Nature Foundation’s Tiger programme, with a constituency of over one million children is a dream. Using the Tiger as a metaphor to protect nature in different ecosystems, we are determined not only to leave a better planet for our children, but better, more responsible children for our planet. Today they are educating our elders – ‘Jungle Nadi Ki Maa Hai,’ they say. And ‘Bagh Pattedar Pani Ka Devta’. Their battle cry is ‘Apna Farz Nibhayenge… Bagh ko Bachayenge’.
When Kailash Sankhla, the first Director of Project Tiger, took charge of what became known as the world’s most successful conservation project, he insisted that we not count tigers as a measure of our success. “Check to see if the water sources of once-ravaged habitats run all year round. Forests harvest water… If the water sources are restored, the tiger and its co-inhabitants will do just fine,” he would advice. Today’s planners would do well to heed his counsel in an era of galloping climate change.
Threats exist in the form of habitat destruction, combined with poaching. And the ignorance, avarice and arrogance of planners who count on the apathy of the public to loot our natural capital as represented by the forests and other ecosystems without which neither tigers nor other wild species can survive.
Don’t get angry… get involved. Remember that the best tiger habitat is the human heart. If we have no space for the wild in our hearts, we will take away all the physical space from them and end up destroying our own foundations.
Support those fighting to protect natural India. Break your silence. A poet can use poetry, a journalist her words, a politician… influence. A child, his or her legitimacy is to ask for a better future. The tiger is a metaphor for all of nature. And if a lot of us do even a little, a lot will get done.