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The Kanha Tiger Re­serve is a near-per­fect ex­am­ple of a na­ture re­serve as an im­por­tant space de­signed to sup­port var­ied species of flora and fauna and where con­ser­va­tion and re­search

ac­tiv­i­ties can be car­ried out.

IT was a cool spring af­ter­noon at the Kanha Tiger Re­serve in Mad­hya Pradesh. I was on a slow drive along the for­est road par­al­lel­ing the grass­land and was watch­ing a small herd of gaur graz­ing close by. These catholic feed­ers were mak­ing the most of the avail­able for­age in a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally bovine way, un­con­cerned about be­ing watched. Amid the tran­quil­lity and seren­ity of the na­ture re­serve, I turned my at­ten­tion to a bull near­ing the road.

Sud­denly, the nearby shrub ex­ploded as a stalk­ing tiger leapt out and pounced upon the pos­te­rior of the gaur. It was so sud­den and force­ful that the bull al­most stum­bled to the ground. I had a full view of the bull’s hindquar­ters and saw that the tiger had clenched the lower thigh in its strong jaws. The bull, snort­ing and bel­low­ing in a rage and fear, was swing­ing its horns and try­ing to free it­self by fre­quently turn­ing around, al­most drag­ging the tiger. Amid this grue­some drama, the tiger’s grip loos­ened mo­men­tar­ily, and I saw blood ooz­ing out of the torn mus­cles of the gaur’s leg. The tiger quickly ad­justed its bear­ings and grabbed the thigh again, sit­ting down on its haunches and try­ing to pull the gaur down. The tiger con­tin­ued gnaw­ing at the thigh, al­most com­pletely in­ca­pac­i­tat­ing the gaur. Soon, the leg could no longer sus­tain the bull’s weight. Tech­ni­cally, the tiger had ham­strung the gaur by sev­er­ing its ham­string mus­cles just above the knee. These mus­cles are re­spon­si­ble for move­ments such as walk­ing and run­ning. The tiger now started eat­ing the tremu­lously moan­ing gaur alive. This tiger had to sur­vive and was merely play­ing the role na­ture has as­signed to it.

Strongly built and the largest wild bovid (fam­ily Bovi­dae) in the world, the gaur weighs al­most three times as much as the tiger but it was now re­duced to an ap­palling black heap of live mus­cle mass. It was also play­ing its role: food for the tiger. Look­ing at the is­sue an­thro­po­mor­phi­cally, though that is gen­er­ally frowned upon in con­ser­va­tion, I re­called the pes­simism of the Ger­man philoso­pher Arthur Schopen­hauer, who once ob­served: “One sim­ple test of the claim that the plea­sure in the world out­weighs the pain is to com­pare the feel­ings of an an­i­mal that is devouring an­other with those of the an­i­mal be­ing de­voured.”

A NAT­U­RAL WORLD

Speak­ing gen­er­ally, a na­ture re­serve is a spe­cially pre­served nat­u­ral area for the con­ser­va­tion, re­search and study of the flo­ral, fau­nal, ge­o­log­i­cal and many other re­gion-spe­cific nat­u­ral at­tributes of in­ter­est. In In­dia, na­ture re­serves are known as pro­tected ar­eas and, depend­ing upon their man­age­ment im­por­tance and le­gal stand­ing, have been cat­e­gorised into na­tional parks, core zones or crit­i­cal tiger habi­tats of tiger re­serves, wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies, con­ser­va­tion re­serves and com­mu­nity re­serves.

Kanha can be con­ceived as a land­scape of large mo­saics of sev­eral veg­e­tal cover and land use types of al­most the same crops or dif­fer­ent

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