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Land of the Tiger: A Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent [Hardcover]

Valmik Thapar


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Book Description

1 April 1998
In Land of the Tiger, Valmik Thapar explores the natural history of this extraordinarily diverse region marked by dramatic extremes of climate and terrain, the only place in the world where both lions and tigers reside. After a lifetime devoted to the study and conservation of the tiger, Thapar turns to the immense task of documenting the diversity and beauty of the species of plants and animals that share the tiger's domain. He asks how so many species have managed to survive on such a crowded continent, where 20 percent of the world's population exerts an intense pressure on the environment. Thapar links the reverence shown to nature by Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, to the tremendous diversity that remains on the subcontinent today. Fifty years after Indian independence, however, modern and urban values are beginning to destroy the subcontinent's ecosystems.

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About the Author

Valmik Thapar is one of the world's leading tiger experts. Since 1972 he has dedicated his life to filming, recording, and photographing tigers in the wild and working for their preservation. He is the Executive Director of the Ranthambhore Foundation and author of several books on tigers, including "The Tiger's Destiny" (1992). Valmik Thapar is the presenter of the BBC television series "Land of the Tiger."

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The perfect accompaniment to the video. 26 Sep 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book has some of the best photography I have ever seen. It is an in detail look at the various wildlife of India. From the magnificent tiger to the crocodiles and birds that inhabit the vast natural habitats of this wonderous sub-continent. No one would believe that India was so beautiful. But most of all it takes and in depth look at the one true King of the Asian Jungle- the mighty tiger. And who better to write about them than the tiger guru Valmik Thapar. It is WELL worth the read but get the video first.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous and highly informative book on Indian and regional wildlife 16 Jun 2006
By Tim F. Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
_Land of the Tiger: A Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent_ by Valmik Thapar is a beautiful coffee table type book that I originally bought for its gorgeous full color photos of Indian wildlife and natural landscapes but ended up reading its fairly extensive text (and was glad I did so). Written to accompany a PBS television series (which unfortunately I have not seen), it is a great non-specialist introduction to the wildlife of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, and Bangladesh.

The introduction noted the very rich biodiversity of the subcontinent (2000 fish species, 1200 bird species, and 340 mammal species for instance) and focused on why wildlife has done as well as it has in a region of 1.2 billion people. Despite the growing influx of Western television and consumerism, religion and its respect for many wild animals remains a powerful force, particularly among rural areas and especially among the Hindu population of India and the Buddhist population of Nepal. One particular group, the Jainists, have such a high regard for life that its members are against harming insects and cutting down trees (one Jainist sect, the Bishnoi of the Thar Desert, which Thapar detailed in a later chapter, even celebrate the martyrdom of some if its members years ago in an effort to save a grove of trees). Sacred groves are maintained throughout the subcontinent (which provide vital wildlife habitat), worship of tigers, elephants, monkeys, snakes, and peacocks (which Thapar provided some very interesting details on) have played a large role in their conservation, and many local communities have worked hard to protect local animals from poachers and have tolerated their consumption of some of their crops or livestock so great is their reverence for some species.

The second chapter explored the fauna of the icy mountains and arid plateaus of the Himalayas. The many melt-water fed bogs, marshes, and lakes of the region provide refuge for many migratory species such as the bar-headed goose and other waterfowl, while the region boasts year-round residents like the lammergeyer or bearded vulture, two species of crow-like birds called choughs (both species of which have been observed on the peak of Mount Everest), and several pheasant species such as the chir pheasant and western tragopan. Other animals discussed were Himalayan brown and black bears, yak, black-necked cranes, snow leopards, bharal or blue sheep (favorite prey of snow leopards, taxonomically according to some experts somewhere between sheep and goats), Himalayan ibexes, Himalayan tahr (a mountain goat), musk deer, kiang or Tibetan wild ass, leopards, Tibetan wolves, dholes or Indian wild dogs, Himalayan lynxes, and the tiger (a recent arrival). In the lush forests of the lower, eastern Himalaya one can find many orchid species, satyr tragopans, blood pheasants, red pandas, and the golden langur.

Chapter three was titled "Sacred Waters" and covered life in the great Indian rivers, river valleys, and flood plains. One of the most fertile of these areas is the terai, a 60 kilometer-wide flat marshy strip that stretches 1,600 kilometers across the Gangetic plain in northern India and parts of Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, home to tigers, elephants, swamp deer, Indian rhinos, marsh crocodiles or muggers, and many other species. Highlights include coverage of India's seven stork and nine eagle species, the migratory fish known as the mahseer, the black soft-shelled turtle (a sacred species, known only from one location, a shrine in Bangladesh), Gangetic freshwater dolphins, the gharial (a species of crocodilian, the male is distinguished by a growth called a ghara on the tip of its snout, which in Hindi means "earthen pot"), and hog and swamp deer (which cannot graze in areas where the grass grows too high and are dependent upon such animals as elephants, rhinos, and wild buffalo for opening up the terrain).

Chapter four was on the wildlife of the sea, coasts, and nearby islands and focused in particular on sea turtles, flamingos, the interesting Andamanese and Nicobarese island peoples (the latter group believes that their ultimate ancestors were a man and a female dog), sea snakes, dugongs, the megapode (a bird species that uses the heat of decaying vegetation in mounds it creates to incubate its eggs), various monitor species (one of which, the water monitor, is known to lay its eggs in megapode nests), various crab species, and the Bombay duck, a member of the salmon family and a major food fish on India's western coast.

The next chapter examined desert wildlife. Very interesting to me were the black buck (a very fast herbivore that evolved to evade the now locally extinct cheetah, this species has a prominent place in Hindu mythology), the chinkara or Indian gazelle, the caracal (or "gazelle cat," which like the cheetah was once trained to hunt), and the Gir lion.

The following chapter was titled "Wet Forests" and covered the evergreen forests of India, which annually get drenched by the monsoon. A wonderful chapter, this section covered sacred groves called kavu; the shola (patches of montane evergreen forest, interspersed with open grassland, a naturally occurred feature); flying frogs, lizards, and snakes; the fascinating life cycles of the fig wasp and the hornbill; as well as lion-tail macaques, Nilgiri langurs, Malabar giant squirrels, Nilgiri tahr, Nilgiri martens (all found in the wet forest of the Western Ghats) and the hoolock gibbon, clouded leopard, golden cat, and binturong (found in the very wet forests of northeastern India).

The final chapter analyzed the life habits of the tiger and its associated fauna, both in the drier, desert-edge environs of Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan and the moist bamboo forests of Madhya Pradesh - "Kipling Country," land of the _Jungle Books_. In addition to lots of information on tigers, the author covered sloth bears, gaur or giant ox, the sambar (largest of the Asiatic deer), nilgai or blue cow (India's largest antelope), cobras, peacocks, and elephants.

The epilogue was brief and basically general comments by the author on the troubled future of the region's wildlife.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous and Informative 13 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Valmik Thapar, one of the foremost authorities on tigers, proves that he knows more than just tigers. The photographs in this books are breathtaking and unusual. Read about the animals of the subcontinent, and their lore and history. Beautifully made, you won't regret spending money on this. My children and I love it!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great with amazing photos 9 Aug 2000
By "slothbear2" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A great book for anyone who loves the wildlife of the indian subcontinent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A splendid showcase of Indian wildlife 26 Aug 2003
By Aditya - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I first saw the television series and then moved on to the book. Both the book as well as the series are a very good showcase of the diversity and beauty of indian wildlife ... the book is not about the tiger, unlike what some might mistake ... its truly about the land of the tiger - its forests, its climate, animals, birds, trees, and people.
The photographs are excellent - this is a good overview for both the tourist as well as the enthusiast.
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