Q&A Session with Dr Qamar Qureshi

  Akshat Jain |     July 29, 2021

Some fun-facts:

  • Tigers evolved in central Asia and came to the subcontinent through the Brahmaputra basin.
  • Tigers have distinct personalities, just like us, some like to gossip, some like to be sarcastic, while some like to lie around all day doing nothing.
  • Females stay a shorter time with their mothers than males—guess tiger sons are also mamma’s boys.
  • Tigers generally like to eat cheetal, sambar, wild pig, and boar (gaur)—they kill 100 to 150 medium-size prey every year.
  • Corbett has the highest density of large predators in India—about 18–20 per 100 sq. km.
  • Total no. of tigers in India: 2967.


1: How do the explorers protect themselves when they go into the jungle?

This is the most important question for wild-lifers. Wild animals give you warnings and you have to be alert to notice those warnings. I have been working in the forests for more than 30 years now but, even today, I have fear in my heart and in my mind when I go into the forest. When I go, my eyes are seeing very clearly, my ears are noticing all kinds of sounds, and I am smelling everything. We train ourselves, for smell, for vision, for sound. It’s very crucial that you be aware of your environment. Tigers will also give you a warning. When I get close to tigers, they growl. Then the thing to do is to not run, to stand your ground and walk backwards, and the moment you reach 30–40 metres, then to run away. But if it is an elephant or a sloth bear, run as fast as you can, zig zag. With elephants and sloth bears, I simply run, in a zig zag way.

Q2: Why do we keep tigers in cages for many hours?

We try not to. The scientific protocol is that we should reach as early as possible after we capture a tiger and the bars of the cages should have a rubber coating over the iron, so that the tiger doesn’t get hurt or break its teeth when it bites the bars of the cage. When we use a cage to capture tigers, we also put a monitor in the cage, and we sit day and night listening to the monitor in shifts. As soon as the tiger is captured, we reach the spot, but because we don’t want to be too close, it may take us some time—maybe one or two hours. After we sedate the tiger using a dart, we put a collar on it and take its body measurements and collect samples to check for diseases. We only need about half an hour to one hour to do our job.

Q3: How can we treat tigers which are suffering from diseases?

We don't want to treat wild animals; we want the wild animals to develop their immunity on their own. A lot of animals catch diseases and many of them get through it; and the ones who don’t, die. Nature operates like this. We should make sure not to treat animals until there is an emergency and it is absolutely required. Because if you do so willy-nilly, you will be spoiling their genes and their immunity. 

Q4: How can we put collars on tigers and how can we identify them?

We can recognize the difference between tigers with our naked eyes, on the basis of their stripe patterns, which are distinct in every tiger. A person can easily identify 15–20 tigers; after that, it starts to get confusing, which is why we use computer programs, because we get lakhs and crores of pictures.

To put collars on tigers, we first have to capture them. We can capture tigers in two ways. The first way is to build a machan on a tree or on the ground. This method is more dangerous but we have good protection and, as I keep repeating, animals are not especially eager to kill humans. Nonetheless, you have to be very-very careful. We sit on the machan with a gun loaded with sedatives and wait for the animals to get in range. The second method is to use a cage. We keep water inside the cage along with a goat. The cage is divided into two compartments and when the tiger enters the cage, the bars of the goat's compartment fall and separate the tiger from it. We fool the tiger and it’s not able to kill the goat. After sedating the tiger, we put a collar around its neck. The frequency of every collar is different. When we download the data, we change frequencies and download accordingly, so we can put collars on hundreds of tigers at once.  

Q5: How do you train tigers and other animals?

We should not train them and we should not keep animals like tigers and elephants in cages. It is true that we do have to capture tigers sometimes; for example, if the tiger is man-eating, we have to do something about it but we— the government and the forest department and the scientists—don’t want to kill it, so what can we do? In the same way that we capture a criminal and imprison him, we capture the tigers who kill humans and put them in zoos. But they should get a good place. We should treat them humanely, we have to treat all animals humanely and look after their welfare very well, as our friends, and not put them as prisoners in cages.

Q6: Why are tigers in Sundarbans comparatively smaller and more aggressive?

The tiger’s there are smaller in order to weigh less, so they can walk in the wet mud and collect their own food by hunting animals, like deer, etc. It would be very difficult for a heavier tiger as it’s feet would sink in the mud and it wouldn’t be able to run to catch it prey.

It is aggressive because, in Sundarbans, human and animal interaction is very new. So, the tiger there is not afraid of us like animals everywhere else are. Further, a lot of people died in famine in 1800s in West Bengal and there is one theory which says that a lot of dead bodies were floated in the water, so tigers have that image of us; if the tiger gets to learn that it is easy to kill humans, then it will kill humans.

Q7: How can we work in this field ourselves?

The course at WII starts from MSc but we do run a few short courses for school and college kids. Any adult can apply for an internship, at any age. We have internships ranging from one month to six months. No matter what your profession is, you can join us if you want to and do something to help.  You can write an email to us and you can give your support to save animals, everybody is welcome to participate. We also have sister institutions which are involved with wildlife and you can take a look at them also.  

Q8: What is your inspiration for doing all this?

I want to tell you very frankly that when I chose this path of wildlife at a young age, I was very interested to go into the jungle and my inspiration was very simple, the beauty of the jungle and wildlife. That is what motivated me, I never wanted to become something, I just wanted to be with nature.

About the Author

Senior Sub-Editor, Publications, Centre for Science and Environment

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