She was often hailed as the "Tiger Queen", and was easily the world's most documented and famous feline. But what made Machli unique was that she helped break the "monster" myth and showed that even the stunning wild cat could be human-friendly -- thereby also sending out a larger conservation message.
"The life of Machli is a message for conservation. It tells us that if you protect one tiger, you can create a jungle. For her millions of followers and fans across world, she was another Taj Mahal," award-winning wildlife filmmaker S. Nallamuthu, who followed the legendary and longest-surviving tigress of Rajashtan's Ranthambore National Park for nine long years, told IANS in an interview.
Nallamuthu, who tracked the tigress from her prime till the the end, is scheduled to screen "Meet Machli, the World's Most Famous Tiger" -- his third documentary on the magnificent beast -- here on Monday..
The documentary aims at reaching out to the masses, especially in the rural belts around forests, where one can't present facts and figures to convince the rural folk to leave tigers alone and not hunt them down. The film has been dubbed in 37 languages and is being screened across 147 countries.
Machli died at the age of 20 (the human equivalent 100 years) at Ranthambore on August 18, 2016. Her gene pool has generated at least 50 tigers, while she herself was the mother of at least 12 cubs. She was cremated in the forest with state honours and the Rajasthan government is planning to build a memorial at the spot where she died.
Sharing his experiences, Nallamuthu pointed out how one of Machli's granddaughters was rehabilitated to Sariska Tiger Reserve in 2008, after poachers stripped the forest of its last tiger in 2004. At present, Sariska has 13 tigers.
"This is a lesson we need to understand and take, especially to the uneducated lot and villagers that kill a feline just because its a tiger," he said.
His documentary, which is produced by Natural History Unit India for National Geographic channel, has been screened at several place across India and many other countries.
Nallamuthu now hopes to screen the documentary in the tiger-rich Dudhwa-Pilibhit region of Uttar Pradesh, where human-animal conflict is at its peak. Earlier this month, villagers slaughtered a tiger two-and-a-half km inside the core forest in Pilibhit.
"I received great response from the Hindi belt and look forward to screen the movie in Pilibhit area," he said.
According to Nallamuthu, Machli's life has unearthed a lot on ethology or animal behaviour, giving a broad perspective so humans can actually connect to a tiger -- apart from generating huge revenues for the forests and the tourism industry. Ranthambore is one of India's most visited tiger reserves.
"She would sit next to the forest safari jeeps, walk next to people, this helped in breaking the myth and throwing out the notion that tigers always kill people," Nallamuthu pointed out, adding that this makes it easier to convince rural folk who would kill a tiger without thinking.
"You can relate her life to a dramatic life of a human, the way she rises to power, pushes her mother out of her territory, finds a mate who later dies so she becomes a widow and goes on her own, struggles and scavenges. On one occasion she fights off a 14-feet-long crocodile... the list goes on," he said.
Speaking of her end, that makes his the only documentary that records the natural death of a tiger, Nallamuthu said that in a way it was painful, but the "Queen of Tigers" was as elegant as ever, making her death a kind of celebration, just like her life.
His first film was on Machli's separation from her mate and the second on her daughters. A fourth is in the making -- he is working on one on a tiger called Krishna.
(Kushagra Dixit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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