In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
21st Century Tiger
October 4th 2004
My Father with Tessa
In the final week before departure the amount of sponsorship reached £1000, and my own contribution was around £1300. There was snow on the ground as I travelled to Heathrow for departure, so suddenly India looked very attractive. The BA flight to Delhi was uneventful despite being two hours late, due, it was said, to post 11th September security requirements. No one felt inclined to argue about increased security at times like these.
Delhi is not at its most attractive at five in the morning, and we were glad to snatch a few hours sleep before setting out on a seven hour drive to Rishikesh in an Ambassador, the Indian version of the 1956 Morris Oxford. There are a reported 40,000 road deaths annually in India, and this drive provided us with some likely reasons for this figure. The roads are shared by trucks, buses, cars, scooters, rickshaws, three wheeled ‘tuk tuks’, pedestrians, mules, horses, camels, bullocks, pigs, sheep, goats, monkeys, and of course, the ubiquitous cows, which are sacred to Hindus. The road was single track in each direction for most of the way, and overtaking seemed to be the second national sport, after cricket. However, we arrived in Rishikesh with only our nerves damaged.
Rishikesh is one of a number of ‘Holy’ towns alongside the Ganges, and was fascinating, full of weird and wonderful sights to Europeans on their first visit to the sub continent. It was here that we met our guide, guru and friend for the next two weeks, Nidish Sharma. We enjoyed a second seven hour drive up into the Himalayas on roads often one car width wide, and with sheer drops on one side. After a while we decided to trust in God, and our drivers’ skills and enjoyed the views of the silver ribbon of the Ganges far below, and the miles of terraced fields, separated by dry stone walls. We overnighted in a pleasant guesthouse, with beds but no power or running water.
The following day I discovered that three miles twice a week around Epsom Common had ill prepared me for the mountains, which, by definition, are almost always up or down, but not flat. We trekked for three days, with about twelve miles being the maximum day’s march. The views were stunning, snow capped mountains and forests of pine, rhododendrons, and silver oak. Little communities were everywhere, and the people friendly in the extreme. The children, many of whom had not seen white people before, stared with curiosity, and adults shyly said “Good morning.”
The temperature was up in the mid twenties, Celsius, during the day, but plunged to well below freezing at night. I was grateful for my thermals, and a bottle of Scotland’s finest to help survive the nights in the tent. The trekking was hard, particularly so as the ‘paths’ in the mountains consisted mostly of climbing over rocks and tree roots. Going downhill was worst, and put enormous strain on the thigh muscles.
Out of the mountains we travelled by train to Ranthambhore National Park and Tiger Reserve, some 670 kilometres away. The average speed of the train was around 20 miles per hour. I am pleased we took the Express! The Park has an area of about 1400 square kilometres, and supports about 35 wild tigers. The tiger’s habitat, and ‘food supermarket’, in this particular area is stable, and Ranthambhore is a very successful Tiger Reserve. We met with former Park Director Valmik Thapar, better known in Britain as the producer/presenter for the BBC of the superlative ‘Land of the Tiger’, seen a year or two back. We also learned a great deal about where the funds raised by tiger charities go, and visited a hospital part funded in this way. It was a humbling experience. A women’s co operative was visited, and discussions held with a researcher for WWF.
We learned a good deal in our time at Ranthambhore, primarily that saving the tiger goes well beyond the animal itself. A sustainable environment must be preserved, and human encroachment discouraged. This depends on the co-operation of the people living next door to the tiger, and this co-operation requires, in turn, the provision of employment, health services, power, clean water and education. This is where some tiger funding must go, to ensure preservation of the creature’s habitat. The most important lessons that I took back from India were these:
If man cannot save this beautiful, powerful, majestic creature, man cannot save anything; and
The earth is not ours to do with what we will. We hold it in trust for future generations.
Oh, and yes, we did see a tiger in the park, a large male about ten feet away, a stunning and staggering sight, which made all the aching muscles in the hills worthwhile.
Written by my Father B.M
Above image not Tessa
Tessa, the “ESSO” tiger dies
On 27th September, Born Free received the sad news that Tessa, the Esso tiger, had died.
Tessa had been used regularly throughout her life on television and appeared in a number of Esso commercials as well as featuring on the Esso bill-broads in petrol stations. She has spent the last four years in Aruba, in the Caribbean. Paraded daily for tourists and chained to a table, Tessa was reportedly being used as a photographic object by her owner, Marc Chandler. Tourists were apparently charged US$25 a photograph.
A source close to Mr. Chandler, Tessa’s life-time owner, told Born Free that she had died of a heart attack in early hours on 23rd September at Mr.Chandler’s home in Aruba. She was reportedly 13 years old and had been suffering from chronic arthritis.
Daniel Turner, spokesperson for the Born Free Foundation said, “The Born Free Foundation has been receiving reports from hundreds of distressed tourists, pleading with Born Free to help Tessa. We vowed to do what we could and launched a campaign, to try to stop her exploitation and to seek a tolerable retirement for Tessa.”
Following a Daily Mail article (01/11/03) reporting on Tessa’s plight and the resulting public outcry, the Born Free Foundation launched a campaign in December 2003. Working together with the newspaper, Western Morning News, the campaign appealed to the Aruban authorities to stop Tessa’s exploitation and to seek an alternative, more tolerable retirement for her elsewhere away from the camera. The public’s support for this campaign has been staggering. People wrote in their hundreds to ask the Ministry of Culture, Labor and Sport in Aruba to stop Tessa’s exploitation.
The campaign instigated action and a special envoy from the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington DC visited the Island in early 2004. The Aruban Government then reportedly asked Marc Chandler to leave the island. Rumour followed that Mr. Chandler was taking Tessa to New Zealand but on speaking with the authorities there, Born Free learnt this was not the case. Further investigation revealed that Tessa would be going to the Big Cat Haven in Dawsonville, Georgia USA for emergency treatment for her arthritis. Upon investigation by Born Free, the US authorities confirmed that Tessa would be going to America but only for a six month period for the treatment, after which time, she would have to return to Aruba. The authorities in Aruba, however, were adamant that Tessa and Mr. Chandler could not return.
Mr. Turner explained, “Prior to Tessa’s death, Born Free had secured the offer of a long term home for her at the PAWS sanctuary in California.” He continued, “Esso also came forward with an offer of funding, however Mr.Chandler still had to be persuaded to relinquish Tessa”.
Born Free was still in talks with the US authorities and investigating other ways to communicate with Mr. Chandler, when the news about her untimely death was received. Born Free hopes that a full post mortem will be carried out to clarify her cause of death. In captivity tigers can be expected to exceed 20 years of age. It is such a tragic ending to the life of a beautiful animal that had, like so many captive wild animals around the world, been exploited for commercial gain.
As far as the Born Free Foundation is concerned, Tessa’s life will not be in vain, Born Free will continue to campaign against the exploitation of captive wild animals in zoos, circuses, in magic shows and as photographic props.
Born Free would like to thank all those people who have supported Tessa’s campaign, and hope that they will continue to follow and support the work of the Born Free Foundation.
My Father wrote this letter to the Born Free Foundation following the news of the Death of Tessa.
4thth October 2004
M/S Born Free Foundation
I returned recently from France to find out the sad news about Tessa the Esso tiger, from a friend’s e-mail. He also attached your coverage on the Internet.
You may be quite right in all you say, however, having been to Aruba on two occasions and having met Tessa each time, I would like to present a different picture which pertained at that time from the one your article seemed to suggest.
A little about myself may set the background. I, too, am a strong supporter of animal conservation, particularly of endangered species. My particular love is the tiger, to such an extent that my nickname from family and friends is Tiger and Tigre to my French friends. I support 21st Century Tiger and have a standing order in their name with my bank. In 2001, with that group, I went trekking in the Himalayas to raise funds for tigers in the wild. While in India, I met Valmik Thapar. In addition I have made presentations to school and church groups on the survival of the tiger.
In 2001, in Aruba, I had my photo taken with Tessa and spoke at length to Mark Chandler. Tessa was NOT chained to a table, but held by a cooker by Mr Chandler during photo sessions. She did not seem in any way distressed or unhappy and outside of photo time was free to wander in her enclosure, which was reasonably sized, clean, had areas of shelter and a pool. Mr Chandler told me the tiger lived at his home at night, though under what circumstances I do not know.
Mr Chandler, to me, had a close bond with Tessa, and was clearly very fond of her. I do not believe that Tessa was exploited, to use you word, any more than the animals in Howlett’s. There, too, admission is charged for entry to see the animals. In this terrible world in which we live, creatures like tigers, in captivity, teach people about their wild cousins’ plight.
I thought you might like to hear another point of view on the matter.