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Interview 16:41 - 1:03:39 Play 16:41 - More
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Charles McDougal  







Terai Arc; Bengal Tiger  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
Apr 2001

  • Nepal
  • Chitwan National Park; Tiger Tops Tented Camp
  • 27.52611   84.22333
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Spaced Omni Stereo; DPA 4060 Omnidirectional Microphones

Show: Radio Expeditions
Log of DAT #: 19
Date: 4/2001

ng = not good
ok = okay
g = good
vg = very good

0:00 Driving in a jeep, going to Tiger Tops Tented Camp in Chitwan, spaced omnis and zeppelin.

0:20 ¿ 4:20 Jeep ambi. (more interesting around 2:20, 4:00)

4:30 ¿ 11:05 Jeep ambi from outside (more distinct) (nice birdcall at 9:20)

11:10 ¿ 12:15 Jeep ambi holding mic up in air

12:20 Interview with Chuck McDougal

12:30 Walking to observation tower

Charles McDougal Interview 17:00 ¿ 1:03:45

16:42 Charles McDougal, living in Nepal since 1964, came originally as anthropologist, never went back. Working at Tiger Mountain, spending a lot of the last 30 years studying tigers.

17:00 Where did the original interest in tigers come from?

17:12 Reading books as a kid. Jim Corbett¿s, some of those¿ First I went to India, I was an anthro student. Thought I¿d kill two birds with one stone. I picked a travel group in an area where I thought there¿d be tigers. Spent some time there, later came to Nepal, been here in this place since 1972.

17:48 1st time you saw a wild tiger?

18:05 When I first went there, attitudes were different, so I went there as a hunter¿ I shot the first tiger I saw¿ Well, I was living in this tribal village of hunters and gatherers. I had come with a rifle and the idea of making rapport with the people by killing the things that raided their crops and killed their animals. And I¿d already been able to kill a couple of leopards that had been harassing them. And one day a fellow came running in from a village quite a ways away, saying a leopard had killed a buffalo. So we went running off, didn¿t have too much time, walked for about three hours, came to this place. And we were going to try to put me up in a tree where I could sit. In fact, as we went through the village, the guy ripped the door off his cattle shed thinking we could make a platform up there. And when we got to this place, there were no trees, just bushes about 4 or 5 feet tall, and the buffalo lying in this clearing. And I looked at, quite an experience, I thought, this isn¿t a tiger, it¿s a leopard; a tiger would have dragged it away. What I didn¿t know is that they had scared the tiger off. So anyway, I thought I¿ll humor the people anyway and see what happens. So I sat on the ground, at the edge of the clearing, behind a small rock, amongst some trees. It was actually quite pretty, I had my rifle casually laying on this rock.

20:01 And I was sitting there for maybe an hour and a half, and it was three days before a full moon. All of a sudden, I registered something down the right side of my vision, standing at the edge of the clearing. I dared not look right at it. It thought it was, I didn¿t know what I thought it was. In fact, it almost looked like a man. It flashed through my mind, maybe it¿s something supernatural. After what seemed like an eternity, the tiger stepped into the clearing, walked up to the buffalo, and grabbed. Then occurred to me that the buffalo was not tied down and the tiger could just drag it away. I had to act quickly. As quietly as possible, I got the rifle into position, got it up, switched on the flashlight that was attached to the barrel and there was the tiger broadside and I shot it. And it went down and then it jumped up again and I fired another round that completely missed it and it fell down about 15 feet from me. That was the first tiger I saw.

21:03 Quite old one, old tiger with the canines all worn down. A huge tiger, on its last legs. Potential man-eater, not a man-eater as far as we know. See, things were different in those days. In the state of Aresa, when I went there in 1960 there was a bounty on tigers. Attitudes were totally different. It wasn¿t ¿til ten years later that conservation took hold there. Yeah, so I¿ve shot a few. It made points with the villagers. Their cattle and buffalo were killed by tigers, goats and cattle by leopards, so I helped them out. I went after man-eaters in India, and here. Yeah.

21:55 you have to be more careful. In any case, you have to be careful in any case. But in this case, you have to be especially careful. Tricky question, mostly a tiger that is old, infirm, injured so it can¿t kill or snatch up prey. Most of Jim Corbet¿s classic man-eaters were like that. But there¿s no one single factor that you can single out and say, that makes a man-eater. We¿ve had several man-eaters here that were in the prime of condition. A couple of cases, they were males that were in battles with other males and got kind of worsted for it, were feeling pretty aggressive and the people were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In some cases, probably mistaken identity, in some the tiger¿s at odds with the world and nails these people.

23:00 Well, there are sort of, I don¿t want to speak for the government, but an unwritten rule, somebody who trespasses into the park, is killed, it¿s not that important to take action. But if the tiger goes out into the buffer zone or the villages and kills somebody, they have to take immediate action.

23:25 It¿s kind of the ultimate symbol of freedom. It¿s a loner usually. Nothing freer than a tiger on the loose in the wild. And it¿s got, never loses it¿s dignity, something pretty good. As far as I¿m concerned, the top of the heap.

24:21 Not in its own habitat. We¿ve had¿ it¿s the supreme predator, but sometimes it attacks large animals that are not entirely defenseless. WE had a case of a tiger that knocked down a cow guar and the other 17 in the herd came and drove the tiger off. They didn¿t kill it. Occasional cases of tigers being worsted in a fight with a wild boar, or even being worsted by wild dogs. But generally the tiger¿s on top.

24:06 Depends on the region, tigers are venerated and tolerated even if they kill the people¿s cattle. And in others they are considered a nuisance and the people would be glad to be rid of them.

25:34 Well, in the very beginning, they were a nuisance. But now, because they are getting some revenue from the park, they look at this as a resource. So they are looking at it in a more positive fashion than they had before.

26:15 I¿m not sure you are going to have a lot more tigers¿at some level certainly. I person who¿s just had 6 of his buffaloes killed by a tiger isn¿t going to be too happy. On the other hand, more educated people and people who get some benefit from the tigers by living in or around, not in but around the park might be more happy idea.

27:15 The point is this. In protected areas, in the beginning, the prey population is depleted. As that rises up, the population of predators respond, to a certain point, before they reach saturation. There can¿t be.. and then it levels off. You can¿t push more animals in there¿ in the good old days, when parks weren¿t islands, the animals could go to other areas and disperse. But I mean, like in Nepal, you have these national parks that are pretty much to capacity. So what you are going to do, is not create more tigers, but have more genetic interchange, if you in fact connect these areas, and I have some doubts about that. But I think that¿s the object of this project.

28:19 Well, put it this way, they should have thought of this project 25, 30 years ago. Now it may be too late to try to connect these places. I think it¿s a good idea to try. I¿m not putting the project down in any way shape or form. Think they should look for all the connectivity that exists and through habitat restoration plug up a few gaps. That¿s a good idea. But there are some spots where the gap is just too big. For instance, they might by some miracle keep Sukofanta connected with Bonadea, and Bardia has a lot more connectivity than we thought to the east but has to dip into India to come up to a place still way to the west of here. But there¿s no way tigers are going to be moving to Ralgeon and this part¿ Not going to be connected.

29:33 yeah, exactly. Put it this way, I think it is personally impossible to restore because, see the situation in the last not-quite 30 years, 28 years since this park was established. The situation within parks has improved, the situation outside parks and reserves has deteriorated, simply b/c there are more people, more domestic livestock. I have moved around these areas for 30 years, some for 34 years, and I have seen before my life these habitats disappearing. And now, 30 years later, you want to stick it back together. I say fine, it¿s worth trying. But it¿s a very ambitious project, with these some big big gaps.

30:30 True, but you still have a huge population growth rate. Unless you solve the population growth, it¿s a losing battle. There¿s more and more people out there and they are using more and more resources. Those resources come from the forest¿ community forestry has been set up as a great example of how we¿re going to plug all this up, but a lot of times, people have a community forestry project and people want to protect that, so they go next door and destroy something else. So it¿s not necessarily going to increase productivity in every case.

31:26 Besides connecting the habitat?¿ there¿s the political will problem, getting the government behind this to do everything it can to make this a success. And then you have the governments of two neighboring countries that have to cooperate. There¿s been a lot more progress on that than there has been before. I think India and Nepal are willing to cooperate, especially on this project. I think both sides are ??? to do it.

32:24 Well, the forest ministry, the ministry of forestry and civil conservation. Within that you have two departments, the department of forests and the department of parks and wildlife conservation. Very much so. As I say, so far, you have not been able to stop the growth of the human population. And just this park, you have upwards of 300,000 people sitting around the perimeter of this park. And so, one way they have decided to cope w/ this problem. To keep people from using the park¿s resources, they¿ve decided to create buffer zones where you have natural forest, community forestry and the idea is to give benefits to the local people so they¿ll do their own thing and not trespass in the park. There are a lot of benefits they get. They get financial benefits, ½ the revenue of the park is used to ??? the local residents., You¿ve probably heard about this. One potential problem there is that the communities at the edge of the park are getting benefits, it will convince other people to come settle there. Could be. They are trying hard and it¿s a very good idea. A question of how you implement it¿ it¿s just that in these areas, too many people, too much livestock. And more every year. I¿ve been out in those areas, all the way out to the western border of Nepal. And I¿ve seen it, before my eyes when there was a wilderness where we used to see tigers, now there¿s a township. The habitats been going downhill outside of protected areas and now we want to put it back together. It¿s a little bit late, as I said. But the good of this project is, even if it doesn¿t succeed in making it possible to connect Corbet with Chitwan, it¿s doing the right thing by identifying what quarters still exist, and protecting these. And with the community, forestry, habitat restoration to increase this connectivity and then hold on to what you got. This is a realistic goal, I think. IT might be too grandiose to consider that we might have continuous habit from Corbet to Pelisichuan, that¿s a bit ambitious in my view.

35:13 by trying to do that, you are going to increase what you know about connectivity than you know now and you are going to make these populations bigger just by keeping those areas outside the park intact. No refuge area is large enough to really hold a viable breeding population of tigers. Now if you can protect that area that goes out, no matter how far it goes, that¿s good. Now if you can connect protected areas, that¿s all for the better, but in some cases that may not be possible¿ I think it might be possible to keep Sincophant and Bardia connected, but to connect Bardia with Chitwan, I don¿t think that¿s possible.

36:18 Better than they are now. At least they¿ll have more of their area identified and protected. Assuming they have the ability to protect it. You have to figure out, does the government have the capacity and the will to protect these areas once you¿ve identified them. I think they do, but with the government the way it is, it¿s not always¿

36:52 No, it¿s pretty much at saturation. Tigers generally don¿t over-saturate parks. They tend to sort it out amongst themselves. It¿s pretty much in keeping with the food supply¿ and the other ones, the young the weak, the infirm, get pushed out the periphery by the more vigorous, and often they¿ll be killed because they¿re either a nuisance, killing livestock or what ever. Also there¿s some infighting among the tigers themselves that keeps the population down.

37:32 Obviously, if you have island populations isolated one from another, then yes, this is a problem. If you can¿t connect it with anything else. See, Chitwan is already connected with an adjoining wildlife preserve, Parsa wildlife preserve, and the Olmeki wildlife preserve in India, so there are three protected areas that cover about 2,000 square kilometers of protected habitat. And another 2,500 sq km of forest beyond that. So the great Chitwan population is still in pretty good shape from that point.

38:15 Right, the tiger¿s at the top of the food chain. If the food chain can support tigers, it¿s a pretty good sign for the ecosystem.

38:38 There again, I¿m not sure how the people are going to be happy having elephants traveling through their fields on the way to protected areas. Elephants are important as well. They have traditional migration routes that have been interfered with by human settlement, growth, development problems. So if you could do that, yeah, that¿s great for the elephants.

39:16 Never heard of it. Can¿t make this happen in a vacuum. People are talking like there¿s nothing happening with the people out there. What¿s going to happen in five years when the population goes up and up and up? It¿s going up all the time, right? Every year, there¿s more encroachment on the park¿s periphery. You can¿t protect this park, much less the areas outside of it.

40:00 Very ambitious idea¿ As I said, it¿s a good idea b/c in the process, they¿re going to learn a lot. They are going to identify what¿s there, they are going to make some provisions for protecting it. Which means there will be more elbow room for tigers in protected areas, even if they don¿t succeed in connecting the whole lot. Which is good, I¿m all for it¿ I think it¿s a very good idea.

40:35 You¿ve got poaching going on. You¿re talking about, in this park, mostly tiger poaching and rhino poaching. Lots of tiger poaching in the late 80s, early 90s, that¿s been pretty well confined now to the periphery, the odd case 2, 3 times a year. Very effective anti-poaching program in this park, and in Bardia, which has minimized tiger poaching and rhino poaching, for a long time, there were a lot of rhinos going down, but the population of rhinos was still increasing.

41:15 they don¿t have the access to that kind of firepower. They do have access to poisons, pesticides, that kind of thing that can kill tigers very effectively. So far, I think that¿s a whole different issue we are getting into now. The two countries that have done the best for anti-poaching are Nepal and Russia. And there seems to be some reduction in demand from the places that were originally the real bad guys ¿ China, Taiwan, Korea. The only two places in the world where, according to reports, demand for tiger parts are increasing are Vietnam and Japan. Tigers are being killed left, right, and center in Myanmar and Cambodia and most of that seems to be going to Vietnam. And also in Japan, they figure the demand might be increasing.

42:53 It¿s medicinal, right? Traditional Chinese medicine for arthritis, rheumatism, back pain, things like that. use the bones, particularly the long bones, the femur bones. Now the thing you¿ve heard about a lot of Chinese going for tiger penis soup, that¿s not a traditional part of Chinese medicine. That¿s just something silly. Generally speaking, it¿s not an aphrodisiac quality that are after with the bones. They do make tiger bone wine which is a restorative, and that sort of thing, but it¿s not directly an aphrodisiac. People also used to believe that about rhino horn, it was never used by the Chinese as an aphrodisiac, nor is it now. That¿s one of those old wives tales that¿s repeated and repeated until people take it as the gospel truth.

43:55 Absolutely. I think it¿s a good idea. I¿m not knocking it by any means. Anything we can do to build habitat and increase connectivity and give the tigers more room to expand in, that¿s great, I¿m all for it. Even if you don¿t¿ attain the overall goal of connecting the whole lot, that doesn¿t matter; you¿re still doing good.

44:36 Yes. That¿s also very positive, bodes well for the future. That¿s a positive thing overall.

44:55 I¿ve had a few close encounters, but usually it¿s over so quick, I didn¿t feel that bad. I don¿t like to get into that. It kind of detracts from the experience if you keep telling about it. Sorry, that¿s kind of my way.

45:25 this is an important focus and it¿s too bad they didn¿t try to do this earlier when there were more possibilities. But they are going to accomplish a lot and my hats off to them. It¿ll be around for a while¿ Won¿t say how long. It depends on a lot of factors we don¿t know about. Possibly something we never even thought of is going to pop up and do some good. You have to think positive. If things continue, present trends aren¿t too rosy. There¿s more and more people on the edges of the park, more pressure. For instance, there are people looking for fish everywhere, in the remotest corners of the park with the connivance of the army, to get little, tiny fish that big, and then they give them¿I shouldn¿t be saying this¿ and a portion of the catch goes to the army that¿s supposed to protect the park. You eat it. There¿s no fish so small it¿s not on somebody¿s wanted list. And on the river, they¿ve got these drag nets, the number of fish in the river is decrease, water birds on the river, less species every year and fewer numbers of each species.

47:15 I haven¿t seen a tiger in a while. I saw a tiger several times when I was here in the fall. This guy just came back a couple days ago. I had the good fortune last season, in October. I was in my room in the morning, doing some exercises and I looked out the window and this tiger walked by outside my bedroom window. No idea. Just as big a thrill as it was the first time. There¿s something magical about it. Very magical moment, awe-inspiring moment. There¿s something about it, no matter how many times it happens.

48:45 ¿ 50:55 Ambi gathering.

51:00 Well, tigers are animals that are generally living solitary, aside from a mother with cubs and a male and female getting together briefly for mating. That¿s because a tiger¿s prey is not concentrated in large herbs usually, but pretty much scattered. So they need a big enough area; you¿ve got to have cover, water, and food. Those are the three basic things. Now, this kind of area you have here, alluvial flood plain, covered with grass lands and forest is tiger habitat as good as it gets. Here a, let¿s take breeding tigers as a yardstick. Here our breeding tigers can get by with 15-20 sq km of habitat to maintain themselves and raise their offspring. If you were to go to Sumatra, estimates there say a tigress needs 160 sq, so ten times. If you were to go to Siberia, the tigers up there, and Russia, a breeding female needs about 450 sq km, so 3 times more.

52:00 Well, they probably need, obviously males being 50% larger than females would need to kill more. Just a general yardstick figure, 7,500 pounds of prey have to be killed each year, considering that 305 of that is wastage.

53:09 Yeah, we learn something new about tigers ever year. We¿ve been studying tigers actively here, since 1973, and we learn new things all the time. The book I wrote that came out in 1977, I said things in there that just aren¿t true. I mean, I said something in there to the effect that b/c tigers are loners, they are thin-skinned animals, they can¿ afford to get into fights b/c if they did, they¿d be out of business, they couldn¿t get prey. But on the other hand, we found, after that, that a lot of fighting takes place, and a lot of tigers are killed by other tigers, not uncommon. A lot more of that goes on than we thought. That¿s also a question of density. As you have more, higher density, you have more tiger aggression going on b/c of the limited space.

54:04 Subspecies. There is some questioning of the validity of the subspeciation. There are some authors know who say there is very little morphological or genetic evidence to support subspecies. There are originally 8 races. Might be, changes that have happened in the recent era, you could come up with three, instead of 8. Well, let¿s go through the 8. You¿ve lots three and one¿s on the brink of going out, too. You¿ve lost, in Indonesia, Bali Tiger in the 1940s, then in the late 70s, early 80s, you lost the Javan tiger. And in probably the 60s, 70s, you lost the Caspian tiger. Now you¿ve got the South China tiger that is down to just over 20, maybe 50 individuals¿ Half of the so-called subspecies. No, but let¿s hope that the other, the countries where the remainders are do a good job. And some of that came from things that could have been prevented¿ They were due to ecological changes in many cases and the tigers are gone before you know what happened. Pretty quickly if the conditions change and they don¿t¿ have what they need to survive. On the other hand, they are more resilient than we thought, a lot more resilient. We¿re finding, in this park, one other thing we are doing here is we¿re camera-trapping tigers. We put these cameras out on paths, roads, streambeds, where the tiger¿s trails are, and these are activated by an infrared beam and we get pictures of tigers. So far, in about 5 years, we¿ve gotten about 650 photographs of 83 individual tigers. So this is a good way to find out what¿s going on. In many cases, we¿re finding more tigers than we expected. So that¿s good news. They are more resilient than we thought. But once they get into small populations, they are fair game to all sorts of chance factors. That could lead to extinction very quickly. That¿s why it¿s important for projects like the Terai Arc to find out where the links are and keep them plugged up, give the tigers more elbow room, more room to move. Then you¿ll enhance the tiger populations in all these areas by protecting the land outside. The protected areas are not in themselves large enough to maintain populations. Especially Syclophanta out there in the west. If it¿s not connected with Bardia or even if the connections a very tenuous one, you want to make sure it¿s connected with India, or else you are only going to have a handful of tigers out there.

57:53 It¿s exciting. Even if you don¿t expect to find one, and you usually don¿t. You¿re usually going out in the morning to find out where the tiger¿s been at night. Rarely do you track it to where it¿s holed up for the day. But it¿s still exciting; you learn a lot that way. Well, some areas are. Here this area we have a brilliant substrate for recording tiger tracks, so we¿re in much better shape than a lot of other places. You have all these riverbeds and streambeds, areas were there are ideal substrate for recording tiger tracks. We¿ve been tracking tigers using various means: radio telemetry, camera traps, for the last 20 years.

58:45 Oh as I said in my previous book, there are more people sightings by tigers than there are tiger sightings by people. Sure, obviously. You are not as tuned into the environment, he obviously gets to see you first, in most cases. in some cases. Tigers are often.. you might come up an a tiger and it might not run off. In some cases it¿ll stay there and look at you for a bit. Couple of young fellas went out on an elephant yesterday, came up on a tiger. There was only one elephant, they were smart and stayed well back and they watched the tiger for an hour. It was not feeling threatened, moving off.

59:52 Once I met a tiger alone on a knife edge ridge and we came face to face. That was pretty exciting. Well, I just had to wait, and I thought I was looking at him and he was looking at me, actually it was a she, and suddenly it dawned on my that she was looking at me to make a first move. So I had to turn around and walk back down. Turning my back on her b/c it was a knife-edge ridge, you were liable to fall off if you didn¿t watch where you were going. That was pretty exciting.. that was on a ridge behind here on a monsoon afternoon, way back when. 15 meters away.

1:0101 Charles McDougal ¿ tiger aficionado, tiger specialist. Not an expert. Lot of people studying tigers to one degree or another. Tigers here studied longer and more intensively than anywhere else. There¿s a good study going on in Russia, South India, various places. Good study in the dry forest of Central India. Camera trap studies of areas to find out if they have tigers. 19 camera trap studies of tigers. you can¿t, not good to talk about, how many there are in the whole population is the critical issue. The one¿s you¿ve got here in this park, maybe 40 breeding animals, another 30, 25-30 in the protected habitat in Nepal, South India, even maybe a little bit that goes further east. So that¿s about 65-70 breeding, adult animals. In all of Nepal? A little over a hundred. This population is the biggest, and then Bardia comes next and Syclophanta next, at least judging by the numbers still in Nepal. If one was still connected w/ India, could be a pretty big population.

1:03:50 END DAT #19

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