Frenchwoman’s story of dead tiger in city zoo is a tribute to wildlife conservation
Next time Frenchwoman Claire le Michel comes to Thiruvananthapuram, she won’t be able to see George, a gnarled old Bengal tiger, at the city zoo. George passed away the day after Christmas.
Claire, however, has immortalized George since visiting the zoo two years ago. It lives on through a story by Claire (and translated into English by Jerome Gordon) that was published on a French blog, broadcast on the radio, and led to a library project that involves reading, writing workshop and interaction with children. .
On Saturday, George was the star of a reading evening at the library in Parthenay, western France, where the public was invited to listen to “The Story of George” and watch videos.
Claire, writer and dancer, came to the city for a writing residency at the Alliance Française de Trivandrum. Keen to write about a spiritual connection between nature and animals, she got in touch with the zoo’s senior veterinarian, Jacob Alexander, who took her to see the tigers, and, of course, George.
The tiger had been captured and brought back from the wilds of Wayanad in 2015 after it started straying into human settlements and killing livestock. When he arrived at the zoo he was old and frail, his lungs infected with a parasite and wounds infested with maggots, and a piece of his nose missing. It was a touch-and-go, but prolonged medical treatment and some surgeries helped him out.
When Claire saw George, named after the main character of a popular Malayalam romantic film, she was touched by the beautiful beast that once roamed the jungle and showed remarkable resilience.
Back in France, Claire wanted to talk about George, his story and the relationship between man and nature. In April 2020 she sat down to write ‘George’s Story’ and completed the 38th and final episode in September 2021.
The episodes were first published on the blog of a dance-theatre company, Compagnie Un soir encore. Then Radio Gatine, located in Parthenay, decided to record and broadcast the story.
Claire says the story of the tiger is 50% observation of real situations and reflections on life (“…we’ve all been living the same strange situation for two years all over the world…) and 50% d ‘imagination.
The story’s narrator is a magpie called Carbon Crow, and George and the bird have conversations about life and human beings. Dr. Alexander is also a character in the story, as are other zoo animals like Gracie, the lioness.
Claire wanted to stay connected to Kerala and luckily, Eva Martin, director of the Alliance Française of Trivandrum, moved by the story, decided to be associated.
The City of Parthenay has now created a web page with all events and resources related to “George’s Story”. The project will continue until 2023 through programs with schools.
Claire says that in a few weeks she would like to launch an art game on the blog to celebrate George. Also on the cards is a web chat with Dr. Alexander and her.
Dr Alexander says George was around 15 when he arrived at the zoo and with proper care and treatment managed to live another six years. Its history highlights the importance of in situ conservation of animals and the conservation of nature and wildlife.
Zoos, as an ex situ conservation technique, also have a role to play in bringing in near-normal conditions rescued animals that cannot be released back into the wild as in George’s case. The facilities also promote ex situ research that can complement in situ conservation efforts.