Cat. 3, Activism 7 – BL-44 – My Year of the Tiger

Cat. 3, Activism 7 – BL-44 – My Year of the Tiger

Ch. 44 –  My Year of the Tiger

Being a boots-on-the-ground tiger preservationist has its benefits. If I didn’t go to India and work at the Kanha and Bandhavgarh tiger reserves over the four year period of 1996-1999, I would never have witnessed this amazing jungle drama in person. And I doubt that even National Geographic has footage of such an event.

I was on an elephant (this AR issue is addressed in a different part of this book) traversing a forest in the Kanha National Park, visibility 200’ from my elephant-back eye-level. (I have addressed the pros and cons of elephant use in tiger conservation in subsequent years and may retell it if/when the right time comes.) On the forest floor is a dense undergrowth about 6’high, visibility 10’-30’. I saw a Sambar about 150’ ahead, upwind. The Sambar was not disturbed by the loud noises the elephant was making over the thick layer of dry dead leaves carpeting the forest floor, and kept on feeding.

On the other hand, it is highly sensitive to the tiny sounds made by a tiger when stalking prey. At the slightest hint of such a sound – a snap of a twig, a rustle of dry leaves, birds flying off – the Sambar would tense up, stomp on the ground, emit a honking alarm call, then dash away. In fact, it is the alarm calls of Sambar deer, Chital deer and Langur monkeys that often alert us to the presence of a tiger, or leopard, at or near the location where the alarm call is emitted.

Something orange-yellow caught my peripheral vision. I looked down, and, lo and behold, there were not one but two tigers stalk-walking alongside the elephant, one on each side. They paid no attention to me whatsoever, but were in a stealth mode, nose pointed rigidly in the direction of the Samba, body lowered, tense as a drawn bow, in slow motion. Since we were going upwind, and due to the limited visibility on ground level, the tigers could smell the Samba, but not see it. On the other hand, the Sambar, being upwind, could not smell the tiger.

I then realized that the tigers were using the big noise made by the elephants to cover up the tiny sounds that they themselves were making.

Finally, we went within 100’ of the Samba, and, as if by unspoken agreement, both tigers shot forward towards the Samba, though they still could not have seen it. The Sambar honked loudly, while turning to dash away, with the tigers in hot pursuit. In a flash, all three were lost to view. I never did find out if the Samba got away or not. But I was amazed by the intelligence of the tiger.

  • Photos by Anthony Marr

February 13, 1997
The Vancouver Sun
by Anthony Marr


“… If we commit to Gaia our heart and soul, our children may just see a new world emerge, one more compassionate than ever before, perhaps one destined for the stars.”

*     *     *

March 5, 1997
New Internationalist Magazine
Issue 288


Ross Crockford tells the story of a man who has stepped on toes from Campbell River to Hong Kong to stop a pernicious trade.

Anthony Marr knows what it feels like to be endangered. Last summer the Vancouver environmentalist was touring small towns in British Columbia, gathering signatures to force a referendum outlawing the hunting of bears in this Canadian province. Often the reception he got was downright hostile. Many people in the countryside claimed he was trying to destroy their livelihood and their heritage…

Hunters replied with death threats and racial insults, and obstructed and photographed people who wanted to sign Marr’s petition, even tearing up signed and filled petition forms. In the end his volunteers managed to collect over 90,000 signatures – half of what was needed to force a referendum, but enough to argue convincingly that many wanted bear hunting stopped. Marr called on the provincial government to set aside more wildlife reserves, increase the penalties for poaching and ban the spring hunt, when most poaching occurs.

Now Marr is taking his BET’R campaign around the world. He plans to speak in several North American cities with large Chinese communities and after that in several Chinese-speaking capitals of the Pacific Rim. ‘There have been many articles crying for help, saying that what is needed is a person of Chinese extraction to tackle this problem,’ he says. ‘So here I am.’

Marr knows there will be some risk; organized crime is directly involved in the six-billion-dollar annual trade in endangered species, and it’s certain those involved will threaten him if they think he’s jeopardizing their business. But after tangling with British Columbia’s hunters, he should be ready.

*     *     *

Riding the media wave of 1996 and success of the Chinatown campaign of 1995, WCWC applied to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for a grant to send me to India to help secure the wild tigers where they live. India is not the only country with wild tigers, but it is the one I deemed offering the greatest chance of success, and the Bengal tiger being the most savable among the five remaining subspecies. The red tape notwithstanding, we received a C$75,000 Project Grant, and off I went to India in January 1997.

Abiding by CIDA rules, which required a partner group in the “southern partner” country, we chose the long established group Tiger Trust (TT), headed by Pradeep Sankhla, son and successor of the late great Kailash Sankhala. This first Indian sojourn of mine lasted about two months.

This first trip to India being deemed successful, CIDA upgraded the 1-year C$75,000 Project Grant to a 3-year Program Funding at C$100,000 a year, i.e. 1998, 1999 and 2000, which was to be split 60/40 TT/WCWC, i.e. $60,000 per year to Tiger Trust, $40,000 to WCWC.

*     *     *

March 19, 1997
The Hindu
Delhi, India


Finally, the BET’R Campaign to save bears, elephants, tigers and rhinos has entered India as well… Anthony Marr tells a hall full of eager secondary school students, “The Taj Mahal is a great national treasure of India, but the Bengal Tiger is infinitely greater. It is a priceless world heritage, to preserve which India is privileged to be entrusted…”

*     *     *

This my first trip to India had many facets:

* familiarizing myself with India and the Indian people

* meeting the top Indian tiger preservationists, including the great Ashok Kumar, Belinda Wright, Valmik Thapar and Fateh Singh Rathore – with enormous respect

* getting to know Kanha (pronounced “kah-nah”) and Bandhavgarh tiger reserves inside and out – a huge pleasure and privilege

* rendering services to villagers, including a free medical clinic servicing three villages, free educational material at the Kailash Sankhala Conservation Centre situated at the Jungle-Lodge owned and run by Tiger Trust, and my mobile slideshow to be co-conducted with Faiyaz Khudsar

* working with Pradeep Sankhala on school outreach

* introduction of low tech such as biogas, solar cookers and solar lanterns to villagers towards alleviate deforestation

* anti-poaching work

* conducting educational outreach to urban Indian elementary and secondary schools

* speaking at international conferences

* performing undercover operations against the illegal wildlife trade

* public education via action and media.

Other than Kanha and Bandhavgarh, both being in the lush province of Madhya Pradesh, I also visited the world famous Ranthambhore tiger reserve in the drier Rajasthan province, and what I saw there blew my mind. The beauty of Ranthambhore going without saying, the areas surrounding the tiger reserve was a picture of desolation, having been almost denuded of trees. Village women had to daily walk miles to the nearest wooded areas, and walk back miles with a bundle of tree-branches on their heads. I randomly clocked one of them by the vehicle’s odometer; it was 7 miles. And that was how they spent their entire day, rather than staying home working on some cottage industry they would probably much prefer. That area was ripe for micro-loans and solar energy, to say the least.

Upon my return to Canada, WCWC continued with the school outreach and the public-education-via-action-and-media programs. The action was WCWC’s inaugural Save-The-Tiger-Walk-97 set for October 18 at the world-famous Stanley Park.

To maximize its success and impact, we went all out to promote it, employing school outreach as the main thrust, thus “freeing two birds with one key” (my invention). We won a $10,000 grant from a local credit union for us to visit 60 schools in the Lower Mainland to conduct talks and publicize the Tiger-Walk. The “us” was myself and my very likeable and energetic young colleague Tim Murphy. We did visit 60 schools, and a few more, on almost a daily basis for easily three school months, before and after the summer holidays.

There was a local woman named Evelyn Roth, who specialized in making giant one-of-a-kind inflatable animals made of nylon that could accommodate over 100 children inside at a time – I recall a Big Horn sheep, a whale and a giant salmon. These inflatable animals were used for festivals and children’s fairs and such, worth several thousand dollars a piece. When she heard about our tiger-saving work, she volunteered to create for us, for free, a 50-ft long inflatable tiger with a 40+’ body capable of holding 110 children at a time for short talks and slideshows. I personally helped Evelyn stitch on a few stripes at her large workshop in Point Roberts. This huge “blow-up tiger” or “balloon tiger”, which we later named Barabacha (“Big Baby” in Hindi, gleaned from the Champions of the Wild TV-documentary – see later chapters), saw a lot of action during its life time, both in Canada and India, beginning with these 60 schools in the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

I was engaged in other activities in parallel. Following are a few examples:

*     *     *

The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, Ontario
by Finbar O’Reilly


… One Ottawa professor of traditional Chinese medicine, who asked not to be identified, said she abides by Canada’s laws banning the sale of tiger and bear parts, but that doesn’t mean she agrees with them.

‘How come you have to protect the tiger, but not the cow?’ she asked. ‘I am a doctor. I want to treat people. If you care more about human than animal (sic), then why not use animal parts for safety?’…

“Because, ma’am, there are only 4000 tigers left in the wild, versus 500 million cows in India alone,” chided Mr. Marr, who plans a visit to the Chinatowns of both Toronto and Ottawa to demonstrate that the new WAPPIITA law is not being properly enforced…”

*     *     *

The Toronto Sun
by Tom Godfrey


“… Toronto has become a hotbed for the sale of animal parts”… said Anthony Marr…

Marr said within an hour he was able to buy processed medicines containing or claiming to contain tiger bone, seal penis, deer velvet…

*     *     *

The Globe and Mail (national)

by Michael Valpy


This is a Canadian story. Anthony Marr, a Chinese Canadian who lives in Vancouver, is sitting in a Toronto hotel restaurant waiting for a television crew.

When the crew arrives, he will take its members to Toronto’s Chinese community’s downtown commercial district on Spadina Avenue. Here they will wire him with a microphone and film him buying illegal tiger bone pills and legal, regrettably, seal penis pills…

“Mr. Marr… says he has been embarrassed by all these practices…”

*     *     *

October 1, 1997
News Leader, Burnaby, BC


… “Unless a huge conservation effort ignites now, the tiger will be extinct in the wild within a decade…,” said Anthony Marr… who gives his tiger conservation slideshow to the schools. “Some adults say, ‘How many tiger are there in Canada? Why should we be bothered?’ Go ask the kids.”…

*     *     *

October 4, 1997
The Peace Arch News, Surrey, BC
by Tracy Holmes


Save the tiger.

That was the message students of Peace Arch Elementary received at a presentation by… Anthony Marr…

Under the watchful eyes of a 50-foot inflatable tiger, the kids learned that only 4,000 tigers remain in the wild, and that some subspecies totaled less than the number of students in the gym.

But, “I do not believe the tiger is doomed,” Anthony Marr told the kids. “The reason I believe this is because nobody has ever asked kids like you to help out. If we can get kids around the world to say, ‘I want to save the tiger’, I believe the tiger will be saved.”…

He also asked them to come to the Save-the-Tiger Walk at Stanley Park Oct. 18.

*     *     *

October 8, 1997
The Vancouver Courier
by Gudrun Will


High school environmental club rallies behind wildlife activist Anthony Marr.

An auditorium full of Kitsilano high school students roared in appreciation…

Inspiring youth, Marr believes, is the only hope to save the rapidly diminished species in the long run…

*     *     *

October 16, 1997
The Westender


… “The WCWC has organized Save-the-Tiger-Walk-’97 for all who care to save the world’s dwindling wildlife for our children and their children,” said Anthony Marr…

*     *     *

October 19, 1997
The Province


Hundreds of concerned people took part in the ‘Save-the-Tiger Walk’ in Vancouver’s Stanley Park yesterday. They were walking to raise money to protect the dwindling number of tigers left in the wild…

*     *     *

October 19, 1997

Ming Pao Daily News (Chinese), global


WCWC’s Save-the-Tiger Walk attracted over 1,000 children and their teachers and parents, and raised $20,000 for Anthony Marr’s Save The Tiger campaign….

*     *     *

The Comox Valley Echo
by Diane Radmore


“Animal lovers of all kinds are invited to come hear guest speakers and attend an outdoor gathering called In Remembrance of the Fallen Animals at noon Saturday, November 1, at the Sid Williams Foundation in downtown Courtenay…

“… Anthony Marr, initiator of the worldwide BET’R Campaign… will also be in attendance… Since last year’s referendum on bear hunting in BC campaign, Marr has been to India on behalf of the dwindling tiger population and was a guest speaker at last week’s International Fund for Animal Welfare Conference concerning the East Coast seal hunt…”



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