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

IT Services Team Leader

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a prog...

Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare high quality opportunity for a...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £50 per day: Randstad Education Group: Job opportunities for SEN Teachin...

Secondary teachers required in King's Lynn

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary teachers re...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mark Reckless, a Tory MP, has announced he is defecting to Ukip  

Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless are heroes – and I’m lining up more of them

Nigel Farage
This Banksy mural in Clacton has been removed by the council  

Painting over the Clacton Banksy? Does nobody understand satire any more?

Rachael Jolley
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?