HOME ON THE RANGE
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