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How armed forest teams chased a ‘man-eating’ tiger through Ranthambore to save his life

A tiger identified as T-104, the big draw of Ranthambore until this summer, is now an aging creature expelled from his turf.

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Ranthambore: It was the killing of a man near a village, outside the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, that put the state forest department in a tizzy. What followed was an intense, 11-day chase by gun-toting officials to catch hold of the guilty tiger, at times in the presence of hundreds of agitated villagers with nothing but revenge on their minds.

The chase has ended. The tiger, identified as T-104, was tranquilised Monday, and the angry local residents have returned home in peace. 

The forest department has heaved a huge sigh of relief as it was staring at a situation quite like the one in Uttar Pradesh’s Pilibhit, where a mob of villagers beat an alleged man-eating tiger to death last month.

When age did T-104 in

Till about the summer of 2019, the handsome T-104 used to be the big draw of zone no. 5 at Ranthambore. And then, mainly due to age, he fell on bad days. 

And as normally happens in the world of tigers, a much stronger and younger tiger, T-64, entered the coveted, prey-rich forest of zone 5 and pushed T-104 out of its territory. 

The exit of T-104 from his home turf was preceded by a brief but savage territorial fight between the two tigers. 

When the forest officials next spotted T-104 outside his territory, it had a grave limp. In a matter of days, it was tranquilised, given treatment, and let off with a new VHF (very high frequency) tracking collar strapped around its neck. These things often happen in Ranthambore, one of the best-managed tiger reserves in the country, and the field staff did not make much of the incident.

The tiger after being tranquilised
The tiger after being tranquilised | Sanjeev Sharma

For two months, T-104 behaved like a “perfect gentleman” (to paraphrase Jim Corbett). And then, on 31 July, he killed a 40-year old man near Karauli. 

The killing, and the subsequent sightings of the tiger, triggered widespread panic in dozens of villages in the region. Egged on by the agitated villagers, the tiger began feverish movement through a huge tract of land interspersed with ravines, degraded forest and irrigated fields.

On 3 August, a tiger’s image was captured by a dozen-odd camera traps hurriedly placed in the area. The forest department identified the tiger as T-104, but now a much-bigger problem arose: How to prevent the agitated villagers from harming the tiger, who was running scared from one place to another? 

“We mobilised all our resources to protect the tiger,” said Ranthambore field director Manoj Parashar. Some half-a-dozen forest teams were formed and rushed to the region of T-104’s peregrinations, he added.

“This was very important. Our presence allayed whatever misgivings the villagers might have been nurturing against the tiger. This also helped cool down their temper,” Parashar said.

Finally, on Monday evening, one of the forest teams tracked down T-104 in a thicket and he was promptly tranquilised and captured. Fitted with a GPS collar, which helps monitor movement better than its VHF equivalents, he has been sent to a new home: The remote Balas Dang area of Ranthambore, with no competing tiger or human in sight to get worried about.

Also read: India’s tiger population has doubled since 2006: Here’s why it is important

Too many tigers?

Parashar, however, pointed to a much bigger problem in India’s tigerscape. This is the problem of plenty, not just in Rajasthan but in many other states such as Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttarakhand, where the recent tiger census recorded a sharp increase in their numbers. 

“Since 2014,” said Parashar, “there has been a 30 to 35 per cent increase in the population of Ranthambore tigers.” 

As a result, the 70-odd tigers living in the safe environment of Ranthambore have begun jostling for space. Once pushed outside the safety of the protected forest after a territorial fight, a tiger is at the mercy of angry villagers and poachers. “We know these are the new challenges facing us,” Parashar added.

Another wildlife expert, Dinesh Durani, said Rajasthan had a number of forests, such as Mukundra Hill near Kota, where the “surplus tigers” could be shifted. But there is a catch here, he pointed out. 

“Many of these forests do not have a sufficient prey base. Of course, we should shift the tigers to these places, but only after ensuring there are sufficient prey animals for the big cats,” Durani said.

Ranthambore, for one, has a history of tigers moving out of safe zones for reasons other than territorial fights, as if pulled by an unseen magnet. 

Broken Tail was one such popular big cat. What made him start the long journey, nobody knows. But a few years ago, he was found dead 200 kilometres away from Ranthambore, near Darrah, apparently knocked down by a passing Rajdhani Express train.

Also read: Don’t celebrate jump in tiger numbers just yet. All is still not well with big cat’s health

The author is a senior journalist and film-maker who writes on environment and wildlife. 

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  1. Just wanted to highlight a basic flaw in your article – T104 is the son of T-64 (and T-41) and a very young male tiger. He has been pushed out of his territory by his father as is the norm. It is quite natural for young male tigers such as T-104 to look for new territories but this fellow has now killed 2 villagers, which is unusual.

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