Fateh Singh Rathore
India’s best known tiger conservationist Fateh Singh Rathore, whose name became synonymous with Project Tiger, died of cancer at his home in Sawai Madhopur on Tuesday at age 72. A former field director of Ranthambore National Park, Rathore’s cancer of the lung had spread to his ribs and the end came around 10:45am. ‘‘Doctors found his cancer had spread in January. Since then we’ve been treating him at various hospitals. About a week back, realising that he won’t survive, Fatehji said he wanted to spend his last days among the hills and forests in Ranthambore. So he was brought here,’’ said an associate in Sawai Madhopur. Fateh Singh is survived by his wife, son Goverdhan Singh Rathore and two daughters — Padmini and Jaya. After retiring from the forest department, Rathore was heading an NGO ‘Tiger Watch’ in Sawai Madhopur. His death was mourned by activists and commoners alike and thousands came to his home in grief. ‘‘He will be cremated in his farm house on Wednesday,’’ said Dharmendra Khandal, a conservation biologist and Fateh’s co-worker at Tiger Watch. ‘‘It’s a great loss for me; the umbrella under which I was growing up for the past seven years is no longer with me. We were planning some celebration this year as this was his 51st year in conservation. But now the plans will have to be changed,’’ added Khandal. Rathore made his last public appearance in Jaipur in February when he received World Wildlife Fund’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He then went into his beloved Ranthambore for the last time on February 11 with his son, grandson and conservationist Belinda Wright. Known to anyone who has ever been to Ranthambore, Fateh Singh joined the Indian Forest Service in 1960 and was part of the first Project Tiger team. Widely acknowledged as ‘‘tiger guru’’ for his legendary knowledge of the big cat, he had the uncanny ability to predict a tiger’s whereabouts. His single-minded drive to protect Ranthambore National Park made him an enemy of poachers who once robbed him. In 1983, Fateh Singh got the International Valour Award for bravery in conservation.