About one-third of India's wild tigers live in Central Indian forests. And that is over 1,000 tigers. If the death of a tiger that had died of old age, in a forest that most of us have never heard of, failed to catch your attention – it is okay.
In fact, with our ever-shrinking ability to concentrate, and the flurry of news on politics and showbiz we receive every moment, it would actually be surprising if we had heard the news of the demise of Collarwali.
Nonetheless, Collarwali was no regular tigress. She was a queen, a super-mom, a celebrity and a conservation icon. The Pench Tiger Reserve, a 1,000 sq km strong forest sprawled across the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, was her home.
There, she thrived and achieved feats tremendous for any wild tiger of contemporary times. The Queen of Pench, with her two male partners, had produced 29 cubs in eight litters; more than 20 of which are now adult tigers.
Let us do a short calculation. Each tiger cub stays with its mother for roughly two years. A female tigress attains breeding stage around the same age. That amounts to Collarwali being 18 at the time of her death. Pench now has about 45 tigers; this tigress mothered nearly half the population.
The tigress was named Collarwali for she was the first radio-collared tiger of the reserve. Collarwali was the star guardian of the Pench Tiger Reserve. No wonder the whole community, including the forest department personnel, biologists, wildlife photographers, citizen scientists, journalists, artists and many more had mourned her death. Collarwali passed away on January 17, 2022.
What does this death mean for us? How does it connect to the context of tiger conservation in Bangladesh? Undoubtedly, tigers are the most emphasised wildlife in the still-budding conservation sectors of the country.
For example, where 14 out of 28 carnivores (including bears, leopards, clouded leopards and dhole) that live in Bangladesh forests are never studied and the rest are known to a bare minimum, tigers have been shielded with two 10-year long conservation action plans.
Indeed, there is no raising an eyebrow at our commitments. But then comes the burning question. How well do we know our tigers?
Do we have any iconic tiger similar to Collarwali roaming in our Sundarbans? How omnipresent are tigers in our life?
This question might be answered with easy logic. The terrain of the Sundarbans is different from that of the forests of Central India. Indeed, the Sundarbans is different, a winding maze of tidal creeks and muddy mangroves.
Loving tigers there is an arduous task. The number of people who achieved this in the country is yet to reach double digits. But, to look for celebrity mangrove tigers, let us turn to the Indian Sundarbans.
40% of the 10,000 sq km strong mangrove is in India. Radio-collaring of tigers has been done there and they have been duly named. Radio-collaring of tigers in our Sundarbans was done a decade back and ended up with controversy.
In the last two years, about half a dozen tigers had surfaced in the media. We are apparently relieved that tigers stray less into the peripheral villages.
But where is the scientific evidence that tigers are really faring well in the Sundarbans? Why are our efforts to know the tigers of our Hill Tracts still at a budding stage?
Let us look at the non-scientific aspects of tiger conservation in Bangladesh. How close are the general masses to the tigers, the national animal of the country?
We call our cricketers 'The Tigers' and the animal is in the logo of our national cricket team. But have we heard any of our cricketers speaking up for tiger conservation?
The national football team of Iran, despite being an Islamic Republic, sported the Asiatic Cheetah on their jersey. The cheetah is another critically endangered cat and Iran is the only country in Asia where they still live.
When did we last see the face of a tiger on our national team jersey? Sport personalities speaking for conservation is a common practice elsewhere too. But, we are yet to use our influencers for any conservation cause.
Rather, to our dismay, we know of a cricketer who donned a tiger-tooth pendant as a lucky charm and was featured in national newspapers. Promoting, using, and trading tiger derivatives are global contrabands.
Tiger was once the watermark of our bank notes, gratitude to the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was the pioneer behind this scientific and creative initiative.
But the tiger is not present in any of the bank notes anymore, except for a commemorative 100 taka note.
The positive impacts of featuring a threatened species on bank notes of any country where it lives are many. We need to look at Nepal, who has proved this with science.
The Terai arc in Nepal supports a rare Asian antelope called the Blackbuck. In the colonial period, it was also present in what we now call Bangladesh.
To protect the Blackbuck, Nepal has a 10 rupee note with the animal printed on it. The impact has been immense to thwart off its extinction there, says a work published last year in the journal Mammmal Research.
Few months back, a Facebook meme went viral, which contained some images of tiger statues from different corners of Bangladesh; all deformed and looking nowhere near actual tigers.
The tiger sculptures looked like caricatures, made to draw mockery from the masses, rather than conveying the real essence of a regal beast. But behind the apparent fun, the meme transmitted some troubling signs.
Tell me, where in Bangladesh can we see a figuratively correct tiger sculpture? Certainly, we have excellent sculptors in the country. Then, why did the patrons of these statues not seek them out?
If the tiger, the emblem and symbol of our national cricket team, is portrayed with such negligence, how low is the status of the country's other 27 carnivore species? How disconnected are we from our wilderness?
So, are we psychologically connected to our tigers? Are we loving them enough? What are our resolutions to save tigers in this Year of the Tiger? The demise of Collarwali, how India mourned her death and how tigers are celebrated around the world keep me thinking.