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Exotic Aliens: The Lion and the Cheetah in India Hardcover – Illustrated, Apr 2013
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About the Author
Valmik Thapar is Indias foremost wildlife conservationist and an internationally renowned natural historian. The author of twenty-three books, he has also presented several documentaries for the BBC, Animal Planet and Discovery, most notably BBCs The Land of the Tiger (1997). He is a member of the National Board of Wildlife chaired by the Prime Minister of India and is working on the definitive book on tigers, Tiger Fire (to be published by Aleph Book Company). He lives in New Delhi.
Romila Thapar is one of Indias most eminent historians. She writes on the history of ancient India, and is Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Yusuf Ahmad Ansari graduated from the London School of Economics in 2000 and spent the next few years working in politics in the rural heartland of Uttar Pradesh. He has served as a member of the All India Congress Committees Department of Policy Planning and Coordination (DEPCO) and has authored two books. He is currently working on a biography of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar
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Another great work from Mr Valmik Thapar
For other nature enthusiasts, living in the real world, Divyabhanusinh's excellent accounts of two of India's most imperiled big cats, namely 'The End of a Trail: The Cheetah in India' and 'The Story of Asia's Lions' offer a far superior, and factually accurate read.
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In the end, each reader will have to make up his or her mind about the exact status of both lions and cheetahs in India based on the evidence presented. This book will certainly result in a lot of discussion and debate in wildlife circles and compel those who believe that these two species are native to India to come up with some facts to support that assumption. At least part of this debate involves the use of limited conservation resources and funding to conserve non-native "Asiatic" lions, or re-introduce cheetahs, while native tigers continue to decline and become more critically endangered every year.
"Exotic Aliens" is a must read for those interested in the wildlife of India, as well as those with an interest in Indian history.
Thapar maintains that neither animal was indigenous to India. He introduces the theory that hunting parks, restricted forests, and royal zoos were the locations of these exotic animals. However, “references to hunting parks are not easily discernible in the early texts, but they seem to be obliquely mentioned in the Arthashastra of Kautilya, a text on political economy” in the fourth century before the Christian era (BCE). The language of texts presented little clarification to the issue. For example, sher in Persian means lion, but in Urdu it means tiger. So did writers document lions when in fact they were tigers? Thapar indicates that the Mohenjodaro seals did not depict the lion, nor did early cave paintings, whereas the tiger was shown in picture form “everywhere.”
The likely source of lions introduced into India, Thapar says, “could have been Balkh/Bactrica” (in Turkmenistan), moving to Afghanistan and then into the southern part of the Hindu Kush and Pamirs. “Speaking impressionistically, it would seem that the lion arrived on the Indian landscape at the period when Mesopotamia, Iran, northwestern India and the Oxus Valley had close connections around the Achaemenid period” when Alexander the Great traversed the region.
Thapar suggests that “Indian royalty [and the British] continued to import, tame and release lions into their game parks from which some inevitably escaped.” Because they were tame, they were generally shot “with very little trouble.” “I believe that the lion was an irresistible and magical creature and an alien imposter in the land of the tiger” and “those who ruled the land kept the myth of the Indian lion alive for over 2,000 years.”
The cheetah, “commonly known as the Indian hunting leopard … is neither a leopard nor is it particularly Indian.” People that had tamed the cheetah remarked that it was “dog-like in its docility.” Although “cheetahs across the world have so little genetic variation that the analysis of its subspecies is an issue that remains unresolved” Thapar believes they came to India as gifts and were imported by land and sea from Africa and Persia.
Moreover, in his argument that cheetahs are not indigenous to India, he states that “the Indian wilds were not suitable for the cheetahs” and that “the cheetahs could never have coexisted with the tiger in India as each would have required its own ecological niche”. It is only in the 12th century that “we begin to find mention and visual depiction of hunting leopards or cheetahs.” As with lions, the cheetahs, he believes, spread from palaces and hunting reserves to commonly being sold on the streets as exotic animals. He says, “at least 1,200-1,500 cheetahs could have been imported into India [possibly from Kenya] in the twentieth century to facilitate royal hunts.”
Thapar presents, at the end, 10 conclusions that “can be clearly stated” about the lion’s presence in India – and likewise, 10 conclusions about the cheetah’s presence. The author indicates that this book is not meant to be a scholarly thesis – although it reads like it. Thapar set out to “investigate a mystery” in which the more he read about the history of the lion and the cheetah, the more he pondered.
While sometimes dense, it is an interesting read with remarkable sketches, drawings, photographs, and paintings.