Letter from Asia: Mission of mercy as Kolkata’s zoo tries to save a tiger’s sight

India only has 1,700 tigers left. Every one is precious

Share

For the officials at Kolkata’s zoo it is a rescue mission like no other – saving the sight of a Sundarbans tiger.

The middle-aged male was spotted this month at Sajnekhali in the Sundarbans delta, edging closer to human settlements, in poor condition and bearing several injuries. After he was captured by means of a baited cage, forestry staff could tell he had no sight in his right eye.

They suspected a cataract but the only way to know was to place him in a covered cage, lift it onto a truck and bring him to the city. And so they did.

“In most areas where tigers live, the catching of prey is easy,” the zoo’s director, Kanai Lal Ghosh, said as we sat in his office. “But the Sundarbans is difficult. It is the only place where tigers eat fish. Bengalis like fish, but the tigers have no choice.”

At the beginning of the 20th Century India was home to 100,000 tigers. A hundred years later, hunting (now banned), poaching (banned but continuing) and habitat destruction (supposedly banned but also still happening) has reduced the figure to 1,700. Every one is precious.

One of the biggest populations is in the Sundarbans, the remote, shifting delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. Up to 100 animals are there.

It is said Sundarbans tigers are more aggressive and bad-tempered than others because they are obliged to drink salty water. If villagers enter the jungle they will wear a human mask on the back of their head as means of protection. Locals believe tigers don’t like to be stared at.

Mr Ghosh said the animal in question was very weak and malnourished. It had perhaps not fed for 15 days.

How long might a tiger live without eating?

“During our independence struggle against the British, Jatindra Nath Das went on hunger-strike. He lasted 63 days without food before he died,” replied Mr Ghosh. “But I don’t know how long a tiger can survive.”

Belinda Wright, of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, said she had never heard of wild tigers suffering eye problems. She said the report followed earlier incidents of Sundarbans tigers being found with weak hind quarters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A plaque on Mr Ghosh’s wall suggested he was the 22nd director of the establishment officially known as the Alipore Zoological Gardens. The zoo dates back to 1875 but over the years it has attracted controversy.

In the 1970s it was condemned for a breeding programme involving a male tiger and a female lion that produced a so-called tigon. A previous director was suspended amid a furore over the theft of rare Brazilian monkeys.

Mr Ghosh and  Dr DN Banerjee, his chief veterinary officer, said the tiger had been placed on saline drips and was being fed boneless beef to help it recover its strength. Then they would take a look at the eye, hoping to use sprays or injections to bring back its sight. Their wish is for the animal to return to the wild.

“Humans can either have artificial lenses or wear these,” said Mr Ghosh, as he slipped off his spectacles. “The tiger cannot.”

Mr Ghosh refused a request to visit the sick animal. But on the way out, I stopped off at the zoo’s tiger enclosure where an elegant female, Krishna, was pacing the perimeter.

Schoolchildren were taking their turn at a glass viewing window.

When they stopped in place for too long a guard wearing a bright orange turban blew a whistle and hurried them along.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?