Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Deceased--Fateh Singh Rathore

Fateh Singh Rathore
1938 to March 1st, 2011

"Fateh Singh Rathore, the ‘Tiger Guru,’ Dies at 73"


Dennis Hevesi

March 8th, 2011

The New York Times

Yes, there was that day in June 1976 when, after years of roaming the hills, valleys, lakes and gorges of Ranthambhore National Park in northwest India, Fateh Singh Rathore stopped in his tracks as the orange blur of a tigress glided through the forest, trailed by four prancing cubs.

It seemed a harbinger that the great striped beasts that once reigned over a wilderness held by the maharajahs of Jaipur might finally be spawning a whole new generation.

But his optimism was premature. Tigers are not yet extinct, but neither are they flourishing; the struggle to stem the extinction of Ranthambhore’s, and the world’s, tiger population continues.

Mr. Rathore, who fought that fight for four decades and was known among environmentalists as the Tiger Guru for his understanding of the majestic cat, died on March 1 at 73 on his farm outside the 116-square-mile tiger preserve he did so much to create. The cause was cancer, his son, Goverdhan, said.

Last month, when the World Wildlife Fund presented Mr. Rathore with a lifetime achievement award, the president of its India chapter, Divyabhanusinh Chavda, said that largely because of Mr. Rathore, “Ranthambhore became the place which brought the tiger to the consciousness of people the world over.”

Mr. Rathore was a forest ranger, a wildlife warden and, from 1978 to 1988, the field director at Ranthambhore, perhaps the best known of more than 30 tiger preserves in India. It attracts more than 60,000 tourists a year, many of whom wander the trails that he and his staff cut.

Often it was Mr. Rathore who guided Jeeps full of visitors. One was President Bill Clinton, who in 2000 got to see a huge male lying imperiously under a tree and a tigress stalking a deer.

The tours would have been far less possible in 1969, when Mr. Rathore first came to Ranthambhore, which is named for a vast stone fortress built there about 1,000 years ago. The area had not yet been designated a national park. Villages and farms had been carved into its landscape. Perhaps 10,000 head of cattle denuded its fields. It became Mr. Rathore’s mission to reverse the encroachment.

The Indian government banned tiger hunting in 1969, and three years later started Project Tiger to create the preserves. Persuading villagers to move “was one of my most difficult assignments,” Mr. Rathore told Sanctuary Asia magazine, which is published by a nongovernmental organization of the same name.

“The people hugged the trees and wept,” he said. “I was crying with them because, inside me, I knew they were paying the price for something they may never understand.” The government compensated them with money and land, but there were violent confrontations. In 1981, a mob armed with clubs fractured Mr. Rathore’s skull and kneecap.

His commitment was summed up in the 1993 book “Tiger-Wallahs: Encounters With the Men Who Tried to Save the Greatest of the Great Cats,” by Geoffrey C. Ward, the principal writer of PBS documentaries like “The Civil War,” and Diane Raines Ward.

“The forest and all its creatures were the creation of the gods, he argued over the village fires,” the Wards wrote. “Did not the goddess Durga, the slayer of demons, herself ride a tiger? No man had a right to disturb that divine creation. The forest must be left to grow back.”

It did at Ranthambhore, where tigers now number 25; there were none in the 1970s.

But environmental groups estimate that the tiger population worldwide has declined to 3,000 today from 100,000 in 1900.

Fateh Singh Rathore was born in a village in Rajasthan in 1938, the eldest of 10 children of Sagat and Inder Singh Rathore. His grandfather was the thakur, or feudal ruler, of the village. His father was a farmer.

Besides his son, Mr. Rathore is survived by his wife, Khen; two daughters, Padmini and Jaya; four brothers; four sisters; and four grandchildren.

After working as a store clerk and selling coal, Mr. Rathore was offered a job as a park ranger by an uncle who had become deputy minister of forests in Rajasthan. He found his calling after completing training at the Wildlife Institute of India in 1969.

He also became a photographer, his pictures of tigers appearing in the book “Tigers: The Secret Life” (1990), with text by Valmik Thapar. They show tigers lounging at the gate of the fort, standing on the parapet of a crumbling mosque and striding among the roots of a giant banyan tree.

“Both the author and his photographer-teacher profoundly want the tiger to survive,” John Seidensticker, a curator of mammals at the National Zoological Park, wrote in a 1990 review in The New York Times Book Review. “But the lingering sense running through the book is that its position is desperate.”

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