A roar in cap­tiv­ity

A Ran­tham­bore tiger wakes up the world com­mu­nity

Down to Earth - - WIDE LIFE - KU­MAR SAMB­HAV SHRI­VAS­TAVA |

ANINE-YEAR-OLD tiger, pop­u­larly called Us­tad (T24), killed Ram­pal Saini, a for­est guard in the Ran­tham­bore Na­tional Park in Ra­jasthan on May 8.The tiger at­tacked the guard when he was pa­trolling on foot in the big cat’s ter­ri­tory. Us­tad has also been held re­spon­si­ble for killing three more per­sons in the past—a 23-year-old man in July 2010,a 19-year-old boy in March 2012 and an as­sis­tant forester in Oc­to­ber 2012. Af­ter the latest in­ci­dent, for­est guards and vil­lage res­i­dents in the park protested and de­manded the tiger be cap­tured. Us­tad was then tran­quilised, cap­tured and trans­ported to the Sa­j­jan­garh Bi­o­log­i­cal Park in Udaipur, 400 km away from the tiger’s orig­i­nal ter­ri­tory.

Us­tad has been one of the most pho­tographed tigers in Ran­tham­bore and has a huge fan fol­low­ing. Fol­low­ing its cap­ture, a wave of protests erupted on the so­cial media; sev­eral can­dle­light vig­ils were held.The protesters de­manded the tiger be re­leased in its orig­i­nal ter­ri­tory. Public in­ter­est pe­ti­tions were filed ques­tion­ing the le­gal­ity of the for­est depart­ment’s ac­tion. They al­leged that the for­est depart­ment had de­clared Us­tad a “man-eater” with­out prob­ing into sci­en­tific ev­i­dence and with­out fol­low­ing the due process of law (see ‘Not fol­lowed?’).

Man-eater or not?

Though the pe­ti­tion, filed by Pune-based wildlife ex­cur­sion­ist Chan­dra Bhal Singh through en­vi­ron­ment lawyer San­jay Upad­hyay, was dis­missed on May 28 by the Ra­jasthan High Court up­hold­ing the for­est depart­ment’s ac­tion, opin­ion is di­vided over Us­tad’s be­hav­iour and

the for­est depart­ment’s ac­tions. Why the tiger was not mon­i­tored af­ter the first kill, ask wildlife ex­perts. Guide­lines of the Na­tional Tiger Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity (ntca), the high­est body to for­mu­late poli­cies on tiger con­ser­va­tion, rec­om­mend that an in­de­pen­dent team of ex­perts should be con­sti­tuted af­ter a hu­man kill by the tiger to mon­i­tor its day-to-day move­ments and as­cer­tain its be­hav­iour as a man-eater be­fore de­cid­ing to cap­ture it.

A typ­i­cal man-eater per­sis­tently stalks and hunts hu­man be­ings.The deaths at­trib­uted to Us­tad oc­curred over a pe­riod of five years. This al­lows con­ser­va­tion­ists to ar­gue that he is not a ha­bit­ual hu­man killer. Sig­nif­i­cantly, all the kills oc­curred in Us­tad’s ter­ri­tory, lead­ing to the con­clu­sion that he has not been fol­low­ing or stalk­ing hu­mans to kill them. Be­sides, Us­tad’s ter­ri­tory is lo­cated on the busiest road of Ran­tham­bore—hun­dreds of pil­grims walk through this area to visit a Gane­sha tem­ple each day. Con­ser­va­tion­ists say if Us­tad is in­deed a man-eater, why did he not at­tack any pil­grims all these years. Bina Kak, for­mer for­est min­is­ter of Ra­jasthan, posted a pic­ture on the so­cial media, in which a group of women are stand­ing and look­ing at Us­tad as he crosses the road. In nor­mal cir­cum­stances, tigers are shy of hu­mans and are known to avoid con­fronta­tion.

Some ar­gue that the tiger’s be­hav­iour may have to do with cir­cum­stances. Us­tad had been trau­ma­tised by sev­eral in­stances of tran­quil­i­sa­tion—once when it had con­tracted ab­scess on his paw, for con­sti­pa­tion, and to tie a ra­dio col­lar, as well as to re­move it. Also, the re­lo­ca­tion of eight tigers from Ran­tham­bore to Sariska in 2008 dis­turbed its nat­u­ral fam­ily struc­tures. Such episodes made it ir­ri­ta­ble, fu­ri­ous, rest­less and sus­pi­cious of hu­mans.

Meat of the mat­ter

ntca has set up an en­quiry com­mit­tee along with the sci­en­tists from the Wildlife In­sti­tute of In­dia, Dehradun, to as­cer­tain if Us­tad had the traits of a man-eater, its role in the al­leged kills, and whether the de­ci­sion to cap­ture the tiger was right. R K Tyagi, Chief Wildlife War­den of Ra­jasthan, de­fends his de­ci­sion say­ing Us­tad is a dan­ger­ous tiger. “We had been closely ob­serv­ing T24’s be­hav­iour for some months and we could see he had lost fear for hu­mans and dug his jaws in the vic­tim’s necks. Af­ter the fourth hu­man kill, it was im­por­tant to re­lo­cate it,” he adds.

K Ul­las Karanth, renowned tiger ex­pert and Di­rec­tor for Science-Asia, Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety, New York, says the for­est author­i­ties were cor­rect in re­mov­ing Us­tad from the wild. “I feel they (the author­i­ties) should have done this when the first at­tack took place. When there is a def­i­nite case of pre­da­tion on hu­man be­ings by a big cat, no fur­ther chances can be taken,” he adds. On the ques­tion of con­ser­va­tion­ists’ in­sis­tence on fol­low­ing ntca guide­lines, Karanth says, ntca guide­lines are long and in some parts, im­prac­ti­cal. Of­ten the avail­able ev­i­dence may be cir­cum­stan­tial, but risk­ing another at­tack on hu­mans is sim­ply not an op­tion for ra­tio­nal con­ser­va­tion­ists.

He also warns against ex­ces­sive fo­cus on in­di­vid­ual tigers, and not on sav­ing the tiger as a species. “Con­ser­va­tion­ists should worry about the de­clin­ing po­lit­i­cal and so­cial sup­port to na­ture re­serves be­cause of these rare in­stances of hu­man pre­da­tion.Our stud­ies in Kar­nataka show that high den­sity tiger pop­u­la­tion ar­eas, such as the ones in Na­gara­hole or Ran­tham­bore, will lose about 20 per cent of its pop­u­la­tion each year due to deaths and dis­per­sal. Yet these pop­u­la­tions re­main at high den­si­ties be­cause of very high rates of re­pro­duc­tion. I am wor­ried that po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous in­di­vid­ual tigers are not be­ing cap­tured or killed in time to pre­vent up­surge of an­i­mos­ity against na­ture con­ser­va­tion.”

VIKAS CHOUDHARY / CSE

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