Where is Jai? The 50,000 ru­pee ques­tion

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

AMASSIVE search op­er­a­tion is un­der way in In­dia for the coun­try’s most fa­mous tiger, with mil­lions of ador­ing fans wor­ried sick about the big cat known as Jai who went miss­ing three months ago.

Named af­ter Bol­ly­wood su­per­star Amitabh Bachchan’s char­ac­ter in the hit 1975 film Sho­lay, the tiger shot to na­tion­wide fame three years ago af­ter em­bark­ing on an epic hike through vil­lages, rivers and per­ilously dan­ger­ous high­ways in suc­cess­ful pur­suit of a mate.

A firm favourite with tourists and con­ser­va­tion­ists alike, the seven-year-old, 250-kilo­gram big cat was last seen at the Um­red Karhandla Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, where he usu­ally lives, on April 18.

Wildlife of­fi­cials in the western In­dian state of Ma­ha­rash­tra launched a mas­sive search op­er­a­tion, hoping to find the beloved an­i­mal by July 29 – In­ter­na­tional Tiger Day – but ad­mit they are clue­less as to his fate.

“Whether he has moved to for­est in­te­ri­ors or is with a new mate, no in­for­ma­tion is avail­able as of yet,” MS Reddy, a tiger ex­pert help­ing the search, told AFP.

Forestry rangers said they first be­come wor­ried about Jai’s fate af­ter his elec­tronic col­lar stopped trans­mit­ting his lo­ca­tion three months ago, while tourist sight­ings of the striped cat have dried up.

The state gov­ern­ment has of­fered a re­ward of 50,000 ru­pees (US$745) for in­for­ma­tion on Jai’s lo­ca­tion, a small for­tune for the hun­dreds of local vil­lagers en­gaged in the hunt.

In­dian news­pa­pers are car­ry­ing daily re­ports on the latest spec­u­la­tion about where Jai may be or what fate might have be­fallen him with some claim­ing re­ported, but un­con­firmed, sight­ings.

In the eastern dis­trict of Nag­pur this week, home to the Um­red Karhandla Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, where Jai lives, wor­ried lo­cals held a pooja, or cer­e­mony, pray­ing that he would be found safe.

Some devo­tees threw re­li­gious of­fer­ings onto a fire while oth­ers held up posters of the miss­ing beast. A small boy was seen stroking a tiger soft toy in local online news clips of the event.

Jai has been cred­ited with both boost­ing tourism and help­ing to re­pop­u­late In­dia’s tiger pop­u­la­tion.

“He’s suc­cess­fully fa­thered more than 20 cubs and has boosted the local econ­omy by at­tract­ing wildlife en­thu­si­asts,” said Ro­hit Ka­roo, a con­ser­va­tion­ist help­ing co-or­di­nate the hunt.

“Los­ing such a ma­jes­tic tiger would be a great loss for In­dia.”

Ka­roo said no stone was be­ing left un­turned in the bid to track Jai down in a search ex­tend­ing over sev­eral hun­dred kilo­me­tres.

“Around 10 non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, lo­cals from nearly 400 vil­lages and for­est of­fi­cials are pa­trolling the forests in Ma­ha­rash­tra to lo­cate Jai,” he told AFP on July 28.

In­dia is home to around 2200 tigers, rep­re­sent­ing 70 per­cent of the world’s en­dan­gered tiger pop­u­la­tion.

Some re­ports have spec­u­lated that Jai may have been wounded in a fight with an­other tiger, poached by hun­ters in­volved in the il­le­gal trade of en­dan­gered wildlife or merely fallen sick.

How­ever, Ka­roo was quick to quash such ru­mours.

“I don’t think any­thing bad has be­fallen him as he is a dom­i­nant male tiger with the ca­pac­ity to travel large dis­tances,” he said.

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