Mary Greenwood - from Clitheroe Grammar to saving tigers in Bangladesh
PUBLISHED: 10:54 25 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:19 20 February 2013
Mary Greenwood describes how she travelled from the Ribble Valley to Bangladesh and witnessed a remarkable wildlife rescue
Tiger immobilised. Start the boat! Adams voice crackles from my sisters mobile. Christina and I exchange a look of disbelief. Are they really going to bring a wild tiger into our cabin?
Im taking a break from my 9-to-5 marketing job to visit my sister Christina and her husband Dr Adam Barlow on the Sundarbans Tiger Project. And Im relishing the prospect - albeit a remote one - of seeing my first wild tiger.
I fly from a Lancashire winter into the thick heat of Bangladesh. A ten-hour bus journey takes us from pollution-caked Dhaka to the Sundarbans, a beautiful but threatened mangrove forest, home to about ten per cent of the 4,000 or so wild tigers left on the planet. Adam and Christina have dedicated their lives to the Tiger Project here, running it in partnership with the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh. And their hard work hasnt gone unnoticed - Adam has appeared in several BBC wildlife programmes, Princess Anne visited recently and the Project was on Will and Kates wedding list of favoured charities.
We jump aboard a small converted fishing boat, skippered by expert tiger-tracker Mizan Rahman, and chug downstream. As evening falls we drop anchor and, sipping sundowners, we are treated to evening bird song and a glimpse of a spotted deer.
But no tiger.
Then, at bedtime - as Im putting up my mosquito net - I hear startling news: a tiger has strayed into one of the villages that skirt the forest and were going to investigate.
Two hours later our boat approaches Kadamtola village. Torches shine on us from the river bank. Are they friendly? I whisper anxiously. Dont know, Chris replies. Were all-too-aware of incidents of stray tigers bludgeoned to death by angry and fearful villagers.
To our relief the crowd is calm. The specially-trained Local Village Tiger Response Team has also arrived, led by Alam Howlader. Alams brother was killed by a tiger yet hes utterly dedicated to the cause.
Adam, Mizan and the team disappear into the darkness and an uneasy stillness settles over the village. Then comes Adams phone call. Theyve successfully anaesthetised the tiger with a dart gun and theyre bringing it back. I watch in awe as the sleeping tiger is carefully carried into our cramped cabin.
Our boat slips away from the village and heads into the arms of the forest, an adult female tiger lying where I was preparing to sleep a few hours earlier. Her stripes are the colour of burnt yellow and deep charcoal, and her fur feels so soft. Shes priceless, yet her skin would fetch a hefty sum on the black market. Other tiger parts are prized for their medicinal properties in the Far East, despite zero scientific evidence.
Physically shes well past her prime. Probably usurped from her territory by a younger, stronger tiger, she would have wandered into the village in search of food. A tigers main prey is deer but a desperate animal will brave humanity for the easy pickings of livestock. She has a gash above one eye and a slash on the cheek from the beating. We name her Kadamtola Rani - Queen of Kadamtola - and keep a bedside vigil as Mizan navigates our boat through the maze of river channels.
At dawn Adam begins to assess potential release locations and I snatch some sleep on the open deck. Half an hour later Im woken by the deep rumble of a tiger stirring beneath me.
Through the slightly-ajar door we see that Rani is trying to lift her head, groggy from the anaesthetic.
Come on, Rani! we encourage her. You can do it, girl!
Our cook humanely kills the chickens originally destined for our dinner and Adam sneaks a plastic wash bowl containing one into the cabin. Rani quickly devours it, crunching on bones and bowl. She polishes off a further three birds then Adam squirts water from a plastic bottle into her bowl. Rani laps like a house cat at a saucer then stares at us as we crouch behind what has now become the chicken door.
The Queen is not amused, her glare intense. She could easily split the door with one swipe but she is content to lick her paws and wash her chops, self-grooming just like my own domestic cat. With this particular kitty, however, I sense the flow of love is one way only.
Adam has found a suitable location for her release but well have to wait for the tide to recede so that our Queen has a dry path into the forest. Fortunately Rani decides shes quite happy in her quarters, at least for now, and curls up for an afternoon cat nap.
Night falls and the moment of truth arrives. The chicken door is opened, then Adam bangs and shouts in the adjoining cabin to encourage her out. The rest of us are on the open deck above, only a sheet curtain between us and Ranis planned departure route.
So - cameras poised, hearts racing, barely breathing - we wait. Then we see the flash of a torch signalling.
Rani is on the move.
Our eyes strain the darkness. I catch a last glimpse of the Queen, illuminated by camera flashes as she heads for cover like an elusive, reclusive starlet. A full moon is showing her the way while fireflies dance as if in celebration.
Rani is home, where she belongs. Elated, we hug each other. For me, all the tension of the past 24 hours has broken. But for Adam and Chris, this special moment is the culmination of years of research, dedication and personal sacrifice. Safely back in Lancashire, I receive bad news.
Weeks after her release, our Rani wandered into another village. This time the Tiger Team were unable to save her there just arent enough trained Forest Department staff in place yet.
But there is some comfort in the knowledge that Rani had a little extra time in the forest doing what she did best: tiger stuff.
And Kadamtola Ranis death is not in vain. Her legacy provides the Project with invaluable learning, as well as vital publicity for the cause. For the very first time in Bangladesh, a stray tiger was immobilised then released into the forest and I feel deeply privileged to have played my part. I only hope we can find a way in which tigers and humans can peacefully co-exist. A world without wild tigers would be a sad place indeed.
Passionate about wildlife
Mary Greenwood and her sister Christina were raised on a farm near Whalley. Mary was educated at Westholme School then Clitheroe Grammar Sixth Form, and Christina at the Grammar throughout her secondary education. After graduating from Durham University, Christina worked for Accenture, the management consultancy firm. It was through the company that she managed to arrange a secondment working on an elephant conservation programme in Kenya. She met her future husband Adam, a tiger research scientist, while travelling in Nepal and they have been living and working together for a number of years in Bangladesh. They were married last year.
Mary works in the marketing department of the holiday firm Thomson Al Fresco. She is a
committed conservationist and animal welfare enthusiast who is on the committee of her local RSPCA centre. She lives in Clitheroe.
You can help
Christina Greenwood Barlow and her husband Adam Barlow run the tiger conservation project in Bangladesh called the Sundarbans Tiger Project which is home to about 1ten per cent of the worlds wild tigers and has been featured in several BBC documentaries. The Project was also visited by Princess Anne last year and was on William and Kates wedding list of favourite charities.
The Sundarbans Tiger Project is dependent on donations. For more information on visit www.zsl.org/bangladesh
The print version of this article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Lancashire Life
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