Worshipping tigers


Tigers have an eternal appeal that is promoted in cultures the world over. But how are tigers viewed by the people who live alongside them every day?

Tigers are everywhere. From Tony the Tiger to The Tiger Who Came to Tea, you can find tigers in books, music, fashion, home décor and TV. They’ve been used to sell everything from cereal to petrol, and they’re the emblem or mascot of countless sports teams.

They’re one of nature’s most charismatic and revered animals, with an eternal appeal promoted in cultures the world over. But how are tigers viewed by the people who live alongside them every day?

In Satpuda, central India, where Born Free’s Living with Tigers programme operates and an estimated 500 wild tigers live, tigers are feared and worshipped in equal measure by local communities.

Tigers are natural predators and local communities must adapt even the simplest of daily tasks, such as collecting firewood or relieving themselves, to avoid conflict. The people of Satpuda are also heavily dependent on agriculture, so it’s a devastating blow if they lose livestock to tigers.

This fear goes hand-in-hand with respect and awe. Dotted across the Satpuda landscape are temples or shrines that have been built by villagers to worship tigers.

“The local tribes in this area are animists and they pray to the tiger,” explains Poonam Dhanwatey, Co-Founder of the Tiger Research and Conservation Trust, which is part of Born Free’s Living with Tigers programme. “They find the tiger a very powerful deity. In our Hindu mythology, our goddess Durga is shown riding a tiger. This has been in our culture for generations.”

A temple or shrine is built after a tiger has attacked a person, close to where the conflict took place. This shrine will feature an altar and statues of tigers, and the tiger will usually be depicted sitting down and chained to the ground to signify that it will not attack again. The local community will then leave offerings to the tiger. These could be anything from fabric to flowers and are, says Dhanwatey, “to please the tiger and to ask it not to take another soul from the village”.

Communities in Satpuda don’t just look upon tigers in a spiritual sense, Dhanwatey adds. “They also believe that when a tiger is near their fields, other herbivores don’t want to go there, so crop degradation will be limited. And they also see the benefits tigers can bring them through tourism and employment.”

Born Free’s Living with Tigers is working across Satpuda to safeguard wild tiger populations. With your help we can work with more local communities to reduce human-wildlife conflict and educate more people on the importance of conservation and approaches to co-existence.