Sunderbans loses Tanti, the ‘keeper’ of its tigers

KOLKATA: He dared to look the tiger in the eye in the treacherous Sunderbans terrain, often without a gun. He would crouch in the bushes for hours, swim across the Matla or camp outside a village hut to help capture a straying tiger.

In an illustrious career that lasted 33 adventurous years, Gopal Tanti is believed to have tranquillized 84 tigers, a dozen elephants and several rhinos.

The ace shooter, who worked as a research assistant with the Sunderban Tiger Reserve (STR), passed away on Tuesday morning after a protracted illness that had severely restricted his mobility. He was 56.

He is survived by his wife and daughter.

Tanti is credited with having revolutionised the method of capturing straying animals, especially tigers, and sending them back into the forest. Having joined the STR as a strapping 24-year-old in 1977, Tanti quickly established himself as the leader of the tranquillizing team. The process of capturing straying tigers was yet to be well-developed then. Various methods were being tried out and the success rate was fairly low.

Tanti, with his raw courage and love for the tiger, developed his own style, throwing caution to the winds. He learnt his ropes under veteran shooter Shankar Ghosh but didn’t care too much for methods. He would walk straight into the tiger’s den and shoot a dart from very close range. Initially, it was dubbed too dangerous by both forest guards and his superiors who refused to accompany him during tranquillizing expeditions.

Undeterred, Tanti often went ahead alone. Once, he surprised everyone by tranquillizing a Bengal tiger in the dark, shooting the animal in the dim light of a torch that he carried. He went in with a torch in one hand and a dart gun in the other. Creeping through dense undergrowth, when he came face to face with the burning eyes of the big cat, his nerves did not flinch. Neither did his aim.

On another occasion, he kept floating in a village pond — alongside a drowsy tiger he had tranquillized. Tanti knew the tiger was about to fall unconscious and he did not want it to drown.

His methods were unconventional but they worked. Since the mid-Eighties he was given a free hand. “He had an uncanny ability to sniff out a straying tiger. He would look at the animal and prescribe the exact dosage of the tranquillizer. And then follow it up by deftly shooting the dart. Tanti was not only an expert shooter but a great conservationist. It was he who helped fine-tune the tranquilizing system in Sunderbans,” said Pranabesh Sanyal, former director, STR.

From TOI


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