Behind every superhero is a jaw-dropping origin story. Similarly, we sat down with four local community members to learn more about their journey to becoming tiger protectors. Chanderpal, Vipin, Satish and Tapas from different parts of India share their tiger tales and rousing encounter with a tiger that changed their perspective and lives forever!

Chanderpal from Etoriah village, Pilibhit, first encountered a tigress in 2015. He had set out to till his land when he spotted the tigress with her cub hiding in a sugarcane cluster. One of the other villagers tried to chase her out. However, the protective mother attacked him, not realising that he was trying to save her. Chanderpal understood that day that even tigers – fierce though they may seem – are helpless when they feel cornered. In 2019, Chanderpal joined WWF India’s Bagh Mitra Program. He has been working to protect tigers since.

Chanderpal joined the Bagh Mitra Program in 2019

A similar story was brewing in Majranpatti village. Vipin Kumar, too, had a similar encounter with a tiger hiding in a sugarcane plantation. Instead of feeling fear, like the other villagers, Vipin felt an appreciation for the magnificent tiger, even developing a particular fondness for the species. “I realised that the braver choice was to let the tiger go than to kill it.”, he recalls. On that occasion and many others later, he convinced village heads to inform the forest department whenever a tiger was spotted instead of setting out to attack it. Today, Vipin takes pride as a Bagh Mitra. As a champion for tigers, he inspires youth in his village to join him to protect the mighty big cat.

Vipin Kumar is a tiger champion who is inspiring youth in his village to protect the big cat

Not too far from Pilibhit, in Anant Nagar, Dudhwa, Satish Singh came face to face with a tiger while taking care of his crop. “I was about to flee when I remembered that, when unprovoked, a tiger doesn’t bother about human presence. I stood my ground and waited for it to move away.”, he recounts. And true enough, it did. Satish again stood firm when another tiger was spotted around their village. This time, in the way of a group of armed villagers trying to kill the animal. He convinced them not to do so and instead drove the tiger towards the forest and away from the fields.

Seen here is Satish Singh from Dudhwa narrating his encounters with tigers

Tigers may venture into other spaces apart from fields. Across the country, in the dense Sundarbans in West Bengal, Tapas Mandal, a fisherman, met a tiger on a boat. In 2015, when Tapas and his friend were fishing for the daily catch, a tiger snuck upon them. Tapas lost his friend to the tiger, and the encounter made him resentfully vow to take his revenge. But another meeting, this time with a WWF India team, changed his perspective. “Just as we were out fishing for our meal, the tiger was out looking for food. It wasn’t personal”, Tapas agrees, spiritedly. The team convinced him and other fishers to use designated fishing routes instead - to stay clear of tiger territory. At present, Tapas works as a Coordinator for the honey collection programme in the Sundarbans.

Tapas Mandals, a fisherman from Sundarbans, West Bengal