Part I of a three-part series
(See also John & Margaret Craighead led fight to save grizzly bears and Browder helped save the Everglades, Kellert found the current changing for animals.)
Journalist Peter Jackson, instrumental in saving Indian tigers, died on December 9, 2016 in London, England at age 90.
Biologists John and Margaret Craighead, instrumental in saving grizzly bears, died on September 18, 2016 and October 4, 2016 in Missoula, Montana, at ages 100 and 96, respectively.
Television reporter turned environmental activist Joe Browder, instrumental in saving the Everglades and other Florida wildlife habitat, died on September 18, 2016 in Fairhaven, Maryland, at age 78.
Yale University forestry professor Stephen Kellert, 73, who in 1976-1977 directed the most comprehensive study ever done of human attitudes toward animals, died on November 27, 2016.
Why they were The Big Five
Among them, their deaths could be described as the passage of some of the last of the generation who built enthusiasm for making saving endangered species a global cultural priority during the latter half of the 20th century, one of the most influential of the generation who expanded concern for individual species into concern for saving critical habitat too, and one of the leading voices in interpreting what their work would mean for the future of both conservation and human society.
Saw an eagle
Jackson, who tended to keep himself in the background, developed an enormous web of influential acquaintances early in a long career covering India for the Reuters news syndicate.
“In April 1953,” Jackson recalled in a late 2000 interview with Sanctuary magazine editor Bittu Sahgal, “I was assigned by Reuters to cover the successful British expedition to the world’s tallest mountain,” meaning the first documented ascent to the top of Mount Everest, led by Edmund Hillary.
“Sitting on a hillside in Nepal, gazing out across the snows,” Jackson continued, “I saw a huge dark bird gliding along the valley below me. I recognized it from the jacket of a bird book I was carrying, but which I had never looked at. The caption inside told me it was a Himalayan Black Eagle. It was immensely exciting. I knew sparrows and starlings and crows, but this was really something that sparked a new interest in birds that has lasted all my life.
“The book,” Jackson explained, “was Sálim Ali’s Indian Hill Birds, given to me by General Sir Harold (Bill) Williams, who was then engineer-in-chief of the Indian Army. One thing led to another, including my meeting with Adrienne Farrell, my wife-to-be, who was Reuters’ Delhi correspondent, and who was to nurture and support my passion for India’s wildlife. I began to recognize and photograph birds, and a passion for wildlife developed that ultimately led me to a new career, away from mainstream journalism.”
But first Jackson served two stints as chief correspondent for Reuters in India, 1954-1960 and 1962-1970.
General Williams introduced Jackson to Sálim Ali (1896-1987), a figure as influential in Indian wildlife conservation as was field guide author, artist, and photographer Roger Tory Peterson (1908-1996) in the U.S.
The lasting influence of a tiger’s rump
Sálim Ali in turn introduced Jackson to the Maharajah Brijendra Singh (1918-1995), whose hereditary estate at Bharatpur became the globally renowned Keoladeo Ghana bird refuge. Accompanying the Maharahah on a tiger hunt, Jackson remembered seeing “my first tiger, just his hindquarters, as he escaped into the bushes. I did not get a photo, nor did the tiger get shot.”
Jackson also became acquainted with Indira Gandhi (1917-1974), now remembered as prime minister of India from 1966 until her 1984 assassination, but then perhaps best known as a founding member of the Delhi Birdwatching Society. Heeding Jackson’s recommendations, Indira Gandhi created the Sultanpur Bird Reserve near Delhi in 1971, and later intervened to protect a flamingo habitat near Porbandar in Gujarat state.
But Jackson did his most influential work on behalf of tigers.
Project Tiger & Operation Tiger
Jim Corbett, a tiger hunter turned conservationist, suggested as early as 1935 in his privately published book Jungle Stories, expanded into his opus Man-Eaters of Kumaon in 1944, that tigers were at risk of being hunted to extinction.
(See Tigers and Tigerwallahs.)
J.C. Daniel of the Bombay Natural History Society and Kailash Sankhala, then director of the Delhi Zoo and later the first director of Project Tiger, the Indian government-led effort to conserve tigers, produced studies in the 1960s showing that the Indian tiger population had declined to about 2,500.
“The whole nature conservation situation in the early seventies was transformed by Project Tiger,” Jackson told Sahgal. “Hunting was banned, so also the export of skins and trophies, which had reached a dangerously high level. Special tiger reserves were established. I had become so seriously entranced by wildlife by 1969 that I left Reuters to become director of information for the World Wildlife Fund in Switzerland. As luck would have it, this was when the World Wildlife Fund launched Operation Tiger,” in support of Project Tiger.
“As the only person at WWF who had seen tigers, I volunteered to manage the project,” Jackson recounted.
Cat Specialist Group
After a decade with the World Wildlife Fund, Jackson added, “I decided to work as a freelance writer, and in 1983, because of my familiarity with tigers and other wildlife, I was asked to chair the Cat Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union. It was an unexpected honor for a non-scientist to lead a group of the world’s leading cat experts.”
While the Indian tiger population is still stressed, and probably no larger now than 50 years ago, Jackson believed his efforts had made a longterm difference, not only for tigers but for all Indian wildlife.
“Children have a natural interest”
“I take strength from the fact that Indian newspapers write about wildlife and conservation problems almost daily,” Jackson told Sahgal. “Throngs of Indians now visit wildlife reserves.
“Children have a natural interest in animals,” Jackson finished. “It needs to be nurtured into an understanding of how we are all connected in the web of life. Work on your political and business leaders to ensure that they respect and protect nature,” Jackson advised, “in their own interest, as well as everyone else’s.”