For anybody with some interest in nature, tiger is always an interesting subject. But, this is rather a different kind of tiger story.
This story is woven around loss of all tigers from Sariska Tiger Reserve (in Rajasthan State of India), relocation of tigers to the Reserve and the tiger ‘T 7’. It’s a long story but briefly, all the tigers in Sariska get poached in early 2000s, without Forest Department noticing the disappearance, which, though must have happened over a period of time and not overnight! The government remains in denial mode for quite some time saying ‘tigers may have gone out and will come back!’ But, the truth cannot be hidden for long.
In 2005, re-introducing tigers to Sariska is planned. This is first ever, ambitious tiger relocation plan in the world. Lot of debate and discussion goes into it. Finally, a male tiger is relocated from Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve (also in Rajasthan) on 28 June 2008. With more shiftings, Sariska has five – two male and three female – tigers around November 2010.
This is another story that no litter is delivered, in spite of several signs and evidences of mating. This becomes an issue of concern and scientific debate but nothing convincing emerges. Wildlife biologists are out of wits. So the crisis continues. I have been aware of all these developments.
It is about 5 years ago. I am on a visit to Sariska. To be precise, it is 23 February 2011. A great drama is unfolding. The forest is pitch dark. It is almost midnight. There is a torch light flashing momentarily now and again. About a score of people are hanging around near the entrance of a huge enclosure. In normal situation, one will not be walking around at this time of the day or rather night, in a tiger reserve. The crowd is largely forest officials and some media persons. There is anxiety and tension in the air.
The enclosure is about 15 feet high, made of very strong wire mesh fencing and iron angles. The enclosure has about a hectare of dry deciduous natural forest along with some herbivores e.g. spotted deer and blue bull inside.
We notice beams of head lights of a caravan of about half a dozen vehicles on the main road approaching towards us. Another 10 minutes, we can hear noise of trucks and jeeps taking the dust track linking the enclosure area with main road. There is whole lot of excitement and confusion – which position to take to be best able to see action. Officials are tense for the state (health) of the tiger after a long, rough road journey of several hours.
Just to ensure that the tiger is safe and also for the sake of excited crowd, one of the forest officials with the cage lifts a small slit door in the cage’s main door. And the crowd in unison shouts ‘tiger’. What is visible is the white of the chest of the tiger with few black stripes. There is some moment also visible. So, it seems o.k. I take few pictures for the sake of recording the unique event.
Soon the cage with tiger is downloaded from the truck and rolled up to the mouth of the double door entrance of the enclosure. The opening in the door is just enough to fit and aligned with the cage door which would be pulled up to open.
All people are now standing close to the fence to a get a glimpse of the tiger jumping out of the cage into the enclosure. I position myself at a place very close to the wire mesh of the enclosure and insert my camera lens through a gap and slant it in the direction of the possible leap of the tiger into the forest. It takes only split second, as soon as the door of the cage is pulled up, the tiger disappears into the darkness of the forest. I blindly click three times as soon as the door of the cage has been lifted. The action is over within seconds.
Tiger is left to itself and all disperse within about ten minutes in the available vehicles. The enclosure will allow the animal to settle into new environment and get acclimatised before it is released into the forest, few days later.
On the way back, I review the photos on camera’s screen and it is disappointing. The shots appear to be all blank and black. Later on, I download the photos on to the laptop. I take close look at the tiger release photos which appear to be blank. And Lo, I cannot believe myself that I have just about captured the tiger’s leap out the cage!! The photo is dark, but exciting and full of action.
This is a male tiger, called T 7. It is the one of the male offspring of the most famous wild tigress of the world in recent times, Machhali, in Ranthambhore. Ranthambhore is packed with tigers and T 7 is not able to carve out a territory for itself.
It is again a very long story, but T 7 has been wandering around for several months, homeless and a serious problem animal! Last, it has taken refuse in Keoladeo National Park, a bird sanctuary, not really suitable for a tiger. It is picked up from here and shifted to Sariska.
T 7 has been renamed ST 6. It has settled into a tiger reserve without any untoward incidence happening. Furthermore, it is reported to have fathered first litter of two tiger cubs in August 2012. Breeding has been successful after more than four years of tiger reintroduction programme. Sariska is no more jinxed. The tigers are breeding here and there is hope of their survival…