Mike Birkhead Associates - Land of the Tiger

Land of the Tiger

1997 A BBC/PBS series of 6 x 50 minutes

See also http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/india/

This series on the natural history of the Indian sub-continent is presented by Valmik Thapar. Mike Birkhead was series producer and individual producer / director on 3 programmes. A panda winner at Wildscreen for music (Nick Hooper). Also nominated for a Royal Society award for music. National Viewers’ & Listeners’ Association award for best series of the year 1998, and numerous other awards for script and individual programmes.

In its exploration of India’s wildlife, the series ranges across the breadth and width of the world's sixth largest nation -- from the spectacular coral reefs along its eastern and western coasts to moist rainforests and parched deserts, from sodden lowlands periodically flooded by the sea to the towering Himalayas that ring its northern borders. Each of the episodes focuses on one region or habitat type, providing never-before-seen glimpses into the lives of the subcontinent's plants, animals, and people.


In the Gir Forest on the northwestern coast of India, seeing a pride of lions may fool you into thinking you've somehow wandered into Africa. In reality, however, this corner of the nation is home to India's last population of Asiatic lions. But in India, the lion is not king of the forest. Instead, that symbolic throne is held by the tiger -- India's official national animal. To see tigers close up, LAND OF THE TIGER host Valmik Thapar travels to the Kanha National Forest on India's high central plateau, one of the nation's 23 major tiger reserves. Here, tigers and their cubs wander forests and fields alive with spotted deer, jackals, wild dogs called dholes, and langurs, a monkey species. But the hunt isn't easy: the monkeys in the trees often warn the deer down below of the striped threat stalking through the grass. Sometimes, however, it is the monkeys themselves that are the prey. LAND OF THE TIGER includes rare footage of a tiger capturing a monkey that had come down from the trees to feed in the grass. You are also witness to the remarkable image of a mother jackal nipping at the heels of a sloth bear that had come too close to the jackal's young. But in this rolling landscape, nothing is quite so dramatic as the sight of the elegant peacock squaring off against the deadly cobra -- a snake that some men, women, and children catch for a living, despite the fact that cobras kill hundreds of Indians every year with their venomous bites. Nonetheless, people revere the cobra and celebrate its symbolic power every year in festivals.


The Ganges and the Brahmaputra, rivers that roll down to the sea from their headwaters in the high mountains of northern India, are two of the nation's most sacred waterways. They are also home to a rich tapestry of wildlife, including the greatest concentration of tigers in the world. LAND OF THE TIGER takes viewers on an extraordinary tour of the marshes and floodplains that provide rich feeding grounds along the rivers. In the marshes of Bharatpur, thousands of painted storks and millions of other waterfowl nest and feed, creating a world of birds. The marshes are also home to remarkable fishing cats, who snag fish with their hook-like claws, and powerful monitor lizards, who wait in the shallows to swallow a fallen chick or egg. Downstream, in Kaziranga, is a land of the giants. Elephants, rhinos, giant water buffalo, and tigers have all found a refuge in this lush grassland. Finally, where the Ganges empties into the sea, LAND OF THE TIGER takes viewers into the Sundarbans, a massive mangrove swamp inhabited by tigers that swim and fish that walk across land. The tigers may take no notice of the tiny mudskippers, fish that can wiggle across the tidal flats at low water in search of a sheltering pool. But the big cats pay plenty of attention to the deer and other prey that inhabit the tangled vegetation.


Off India's east and west coasts, pearl-like strings of islands are surrounded by opal waters and stunningly colorful coral reefs. To the west are the Lakshadweep Islands; to the east, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Around them, the sea is filled with turtles and fish -- from the smallest coral dweller to the world's largest shark, the 60-foot long whale shark. There are also the beautiful, birdlike manta rays, flying through the water on 20-foot-wide wings. On the sea floor beneath the soaring rays, colonies of garden eels poke their S-shaped bodies out of burrows in the sand, waving to and fro like fronds of grass. On nearby beaches, thousands of baby Olive Ridley sea turtles burst out of their buried eggs and struggle to the sea. Ironically, some are smashed along the way by a mammoth female turtle, coming back to the beach to lay more eggs. Most amazing of all, however, are the swimming elephants. The beasts of burden were brought to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to haul timber. But to do their work, they must occasionally commute, island-hopping with their trainers, called mahouts, riding astride their backs. Remarkably, the great beasts can swim a mile or more at a stretch and move through the water faster than a swimming person.


India's desert, which stretches from the nation's northwest corner west into Pakistan, may look dry and desolate. But it is in fact alive with wildlife and people, who have forged unusual alliances in the quest for survival. Outside the tiny village of Kheechan, for instance, thousands of Demoiselle cranes gather on the dunes each winter. They come to feed on the bushels of grain that the village's people, who believe the birds to be symbols of good luck, spread for the birds.

LAND OF THE TIGER also takes viewers to Pushkar, to the age-old camel fair. Here, teams of camel hairdressers make sure each camel looks its best before being put up for sale. In the town of Bishnoi, viewers meet the amazing Bishnoi people, a tribe of strict vegetarians who have become stewards of desert wildlife. Deer and other animals flock to Bishnoi villages, knowing that they will be secure. The Bishnoi have even been known to give up their own lives to poachers to protect the desert's animals. At the desert city of Jodhpur, sentinels of another kind keep watch: flocks of bearded vultures, natural garbage disposals that can strip a cow carcass clean of meat in less than half an hour. The giant birds help keep the crowded city clean. To survive, other desert animals have also learned interesting tricks. Some fish, for instance, have evolved to the point where they are able to walk across the sands when their pools of water begin to dry up, while huge flocks of flamingos have learned to rush in when spring rains temporarily flood the sands to turn desolate dunes into flowery refuges.


India's northern border is marked by the highest mountain chain in the world: the snow-covered Himalayas. This thousand-mile wall of rock and ice, up to six miles high in places, demands stamina and resourcefulness from its inhabitants, both people and wildlife.

However, as LAND OF THE TIGER shows, the rare and elusive snow leopard is well prepared to prosper in the steep terrain, stalking wary Himalayan ibex, blue sheep, and other prey across the rocky, steep slopes. People, too, have learned to survive in the Himalayas' high valleys, in towns and monasteries perched on knife-edged ridges. In colourful festivals, they celebrate the wildlife around them and take ceremonial, spiritually cleansing swims in the region's frigid, glacier-fed streams. In the eastern Himalayas, however, the rocky vastness gives way to the moist, green mountains of Arunachal Pradesh, a biologically rich wonderland. Here, rare land crabs, red pandas, singing gibbons, and showy pheasants are just a few of the many animals that thrive in the lush forests, which receive up to 30 feet of rain a year.


In the remnants of India's once-vast rainforests, which stretch across south and central India and to the island nation of Sri Lanka off India's southern tip, giant hornbills flock to fig trees, gulping down the sweet fruit with their huge, banana-shaped bills. Nearby, lion-tailed macaques, nilgiri langurs, and other primates find their own meal amidst the lush trees, which are fuelled by the annual monsoon storms that can bring 30 feet of rain or more. On the forest floor, elephants pick their way through the tree trunks, careful not to step on a resting king cobra: a single bite from the venomous snake could kill a baby elephant. A fate of a different kind awaits many of the forest's insects: death at the end of a chameleon's long, sticky tongue. LAND OF THE TIGER provides viewers with an intimate portrait of all of these forest inhabitants and more, including the remarkable flying lizard, which can glide hundreds of feet from treetop perches to the ground. It also highlights the extraordinary relationship between fig trees and wasps, which depend on each other for their survival. Each of the 900 kinds of fig has its own species of pollinating wasp, which live inside the fruit and carry pollen from tree to tree. Indeed, the fig is so important to life in these forests that people have forged a special bond with some especially large figs trees, worshipping under their outstretched branches.

The music and books and vhs's of the series can be found via the internet.


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