Sunday, February 20, 2011

Broken Tail farewell

As it had surprised me to learn that birds don't know to fly high enough over roads to avoid being hit by vehicles . . . it also surprised me to learn that much bigger and more predatory animals, like tigers, may not know to avoid trains.

Tonight's Nature program on channel 13 memorialized "Broken Tail," a Bengal tiger about 2 1/2 years old. For reasons unknown, he had traveled by himself over 100 miles from the tiger reserve where he was born to a place called Darra, where he was hit and killed by an express train.

Film footage of Broken Tail's cub days with a brother and his mother made up much of the program, coupled with narrative about the state of tigers in India today: "Tigers are absolutely on the edge," numbering about 1,400 altogether. The program also included old films of people shooting tigers in India, exulting over their kills, displaying their trophies.

Broken Tail had left the relative safety of the tiger reserve he grew up in, made it through a "killing zone" outside it and even found water along his route . . . only to die by train. One theory: though the train sound was familiar to him from the park, he simply didn't know to avoid the train.

This was his "last journey," and no one understands why he made it. While retracing Broken Tail's probable route, the photographer-narrator mentioned that tigers protect India's forests. Once tigers disappear, the "political eye" turns away and the forests are allowed to degrade.

Tigers are magnificent creatures. The center of Broken Tail's face was "plain" orange-gold, with white and black around his eyes -- a kind of white mask with black stripes. The outside of each ear was black, with a white circle in the middle. Stripes around his torso seemed to continue on to his legs, while from the back, stripes seemed to radiate out from the tail -- itself ringed with black stripes.

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