Big Cats of India: Learning to Live in Peace

Most people who love nature really love big cats. This was proven by the outrage shown in 2015 when a dentist shot Cecil, a beloved lion that wandered out of its sanctuary. India is a great place to see these big cats. Although Bengal tigers seem to be the favorite of most tourists, Indian leopards and Asian lions join them to make up the big cats of India.

There are more than 1.2 billion people in India and two-thirds of them live in rural areas. This means that humans are encroaching more and more into the territory of the big cats of India. When these cats that are caught in populated areas conflicts arise and they must be moved to more remote, unpopulated areas.

THE INDIAN LEOPARD LIVES IN PEACE WITH THE BERA

In Rajasthan the people of Bera live alongside Indian Leopards. Since natural prey is no longer available in their habitat, the leopards look to the herds of domesticated goats and cows for food. Losing a livestock animal is an extreme hardship for these people so they have often poisoned leopards to save their herds.

big cats of India

In Bera, India, leopards live alongside humans in relative peace. Image credit: PawanJaidka

In steps, Devi Singh, a wealthy landowner, developed a relationship with a leopard he named Zara. He became close to Zara and earned her trust.  He wanted to find a way to stop the shepherds and farmers from poisoning leopards or shooting them. Devi began to compensate them for their dead livestock in order to keep the farmers from killing the leopards. When the people stopped killing the leopards, oddly enough the big cats relaxed. The people now leave the leopards alone and vice versa. Now the only place tourists can come and photograph these beautiful big cats of India is Bera.

THE SOLIGA’S BIG CATS OF INDIA ARE BENGAL TIGERS

The Soliga tribespeople see the tiger as a sacred animal as well as a symbol of strength. They live in the Biligiri Rangana Hills in southern India with their beloved Bengal tigers. Historically the Soliga were nomadic farmers but they were displaced by the sanctuaries set up by Project Tiger in 1973. The remaining tribes living in the protected forests earn a living by harvesting coffee, honey, and gathering medicinal plants to sell. Villagers accept it when a family member is killed by a tiger … they even conduct rituals to appease the tigers after a death has occurred.

big cats of India

The Bengal Tiger is perhaps the most beloved of all of India’s big cats. Image credit: Rishabh25794

Poonam Dhanwatey and Harshawardhan Dhanwatey founded the Tiger Research and Conservation Trust. They saw that people and tigers wanted and needed the same space. Many of the human/tiger conflicts occur along sanctuary borders. Most tiger attacks happen when the people come into the forest which is the tiger’s territory. The tigers can (and do) look at people as prey.

Tigers are usually shy, solitary animals. These big cats of India need a large amount of territory depending on the availability of prey. When people move into or close to tiger territory, the tigers see them and their farm animals as prey.

Poonam and their team go to villages and teach people how to live with the tigers. They train people how to track these big cats via footprints and scat. Tiger’s paws create pug marks just like our fingerprints – no two tigers have the same pug marks. This helps the villagers know how many tigers are in certain areas.  The team also teaches villagers how to make noise and scare the tigers off. As a last resort the villagers are given fireworks to scare the tigers. The goal is to create an environment where the villagers can be safe and live alongside the tigers.

RECOVERy EFFORTS for ASIAN LIONS

Gujarat is a part of India where Asian lions live. They are the last of their kind. They were hunted almost to extinction until in 1965 the lions were given their own territory in the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. There, the population of lions has grown to nearly 500. Some of these lions have wandered outside of the park boundaries and have taken up permanent residence in some coastal areas.

big cats of India

Due to conservation efforts, the Asian Lion still thrives in India. Image credit: Tony Hisgett

The people who live outside this sanctuary are the Maldari. They do not believe in killing animals. The Maldari have women rangers who drive through the park monitoring the lions. These women are highly trained and do an amazing job. If a lion is hurt badly it is taken to their rescue center and rehabilitated before it is returned to the park. If a lion kills a human, it is labeled a man eater and it will be sentenced to life in a cage.

It is good to know that the big cats we love are being saved from extinction. India is a fascinating country that is working to save its wildlife. If you like to photograph wildlife, India would be a great place to go on vacation. You could be shooting these beautiful big cats. Shooting with a camera, of course!

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