The Tale Of Tara

The Tale Of Tara: - Page 1&2: Raising & Release | 3: A Man-Eater In Dudhwa | 4: Tara's Heritage

A legacy:

There is one more issue still to be covered; this is the legacy Tara left at Dudhwa. It seems she did survive the wild and she almost definitely had cubs.

It was in 1995 that Singh spotted a young male with Siberian characteristics. His colour was lighter than for the Bengal while the stripes were wider; he had a large head and considerable white around the forehead and cheeks.

When Singh released Tara he already knew she was of mixed ancestry; so did many of those people who strongly objected to the experiment even before Tara had entered India.

After her release he again received a bombardment of letters claiming irreparable damage would have been done by genetically contaminating wild Bengal tigers. Singh was told he'd released a "genetic cocktail" into Dudhwa Tiger reserve. The director of Project Tiger in Delhi said, "it will be a catastrophe of the highest order genetically if our breed of tigers is contaminated by one of impure lineage." Yet another source is quoted as saying, "We will have to consider Tara's elimination, as well as that of her cocktail progeny." This threat was rather futile anyway, as the only person capable of accurately identifying the tigress was Billy Arjan Singh and he was her most staunch defender.

At the time it was thought Tara carried Siberian genes, but there is now some debate on exactly what subspecies pollution she was carrying. For certain we know there was some, and with Singh thinking it was Siberian genes, he collected hairs from where the young male had been sitting and sent them for analysis.

The Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad carried out a molecular examination of the hairs. Within their findings was a statement that Tara's possible offspring carried Siberian genes.

Genetic pollution:

To add to the confusion, more recent research into Tara?s ancestry by Douglas Richardson, Director of Rome zoo, suggests that though Tara was obviously a hybrid, the mixture may not have been the usually accepted Bengal/Siberian combination.

His research revealed that Tara may have had Corbetts or Sumatran genes, not Siberian. In text dated 22nd November 1999, Richardson wrote:

"The three breeding tigers at Twycross during the time of Tara's birth were a male bred at Howlett?s (the private collection of the late John Aspinall), and two females from an Edinburgh pair. The male was originally thought to have been a sumatrae/tigris cross due to a male called Mazar at Howletts, who had strong Sumatran characteristics, and a female, also called Tara, from Edinburgh.

The breeding pair at Edinburgh were thought to have been tigris, and were listed as such, but after closer examination of the records, and the origins of quite a number of the wild tigers that were brought into British zoos at the time, they were probably corbetti. This would explain the findings of the analysis of the Howletts? samples. We must remember that corbetti was not described until 1968, and these imports would have quite correctly been called tigris at that time. The suggestion of altaica genes in the Indian population is ludicrous."

Dudhwa tigers today:

Despite Richardson's study on the topic it is Siberian genes which are to be found among the tigers of Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. Two wild tigers from the area were tested and both showed, with 90% certainty, some Siberian genetic pollution. The most likely source of this would have to be Tara's introduction just over two decades ago.

Where would the Siberian genes have come from if not Tara? Perhaps from an escaped pet or released circus/zoo tiger, though there is no evidence to suggest this has happened.

Dudhwa tigers constitute about 1% of India's total wild population of 3,500, but the possibility exists of the genetic pollution spreading to other tiger groups. At its worst, this could jeopardise the Bengal tiger as a distinct subspecies. A good comparison is that if we mate a great dane dog with a chihuahua, we still have a dog, but it is of an unknown breed and loses many of the characteristics of its parents.

In an effort to prevent this threat it has been strongly suggested all tigers in Dudhwa should be tested to determine those which should be removed from the area; Project Tiger is heavily involved in this. In terms of practicality, such extensive testing would be very expensive and some people say the money would be better spent on saving tiger habitat.

Billy Arjan Singh is far from being concerned or repentant about the outcome. He was always convinced that cross-fertilisation was a form of progress and did not disadvantage the tiger as a whole. There would seem to be few people prepared to support his stand on this.

A point worth contemplation in all of this is that wild carnivores are quite capable of reproduction and even species recovery if humans only ensure their protection.

Still in defence of Tara:

Even now, Singh still crosses swords with officials. The 82-year-old was recently accused of baiting a tigress and her two cubs so a BBC wildlife film crew could get good shots. An officer caught him putting out a calf and took possession of the carcass, which was later burnt.

Singh then wrote a large number of letters to various wildlife departments stating that he had dragged and tethered a cow after it died of cold. He asserted that the tigress he fed was a product of Tara and that prey is in short supply at Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. Billy Arjan Singh's defence of Tara continues..... 

The Tale Of Tara: - Page 1&2: Raising & Release | 3: A Man-Eater In Dudhwa | 4: Tara's Heritage

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Photography With Thanks To Aditya Singh
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