Tigress Sundari watching a mahout on his elephant back in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve.
INDIA : These are hard times for tiger lovers.
As a controversial private shooter with a shady cowboy reputation is on the hunt for T1, the Yavatamal tigress responsible for the death of more than 10 people, Sundari, the young tigress relocated to Satkosia, will probably be shifted again on request of an angry mob after she allegedly killed a woman.
Let’s go back to the month of June, when two tigers were sent to Satkosia from Madhya Pradesh in the first inter-state relocation project in an attempt to repopulate the area.
A good idea to be carried out in a place that apparently had all the ingredients for a successful outcome : a beautiful forest, once home to a thriving population of tigers that had unfortunately dwindled to some elderly specimen and a decent-sized prey base.
The problems started as soon as Yuvraj, the male tiger from Kanha was released into the forest. Local villagers, supported by political extremists who had an agenda of their own, protested that a man eating tiger was on the loose and threatened to kill the animal.
The release of Sundari, who had in the meantime arrived from Bandhavgarh, was delayed by almost a month. During this time, the animal was kept in an enclosure. Released the 17th August, she had a hard time establishing a territory and had reportedly been seen on the outskirts of local villages.
On Wednesday 12th September, a woman was found dead, her wounds inflicted by a wild animal, allegedly a tiger.
A highly fragmented habitat with a considerable human population in its outskirts, Satkosia Tiger Reserve’s reality couldn’t live up to its ambitions.
Blinded by dreams of a Ranthambore-like lucrative tourism industry based on the tiger, the local government and the Forest Department with the approval of the NTCA initiated an operation without doing enough preliminary work.
They failed to admit that Satkosia tiger reserve didn’t have enough pristine habitat and prey base for a tiger population to thrive and they dismissed the possibility of conflict arising with the local residents.
Not enough has been done to protect the animals nor the people, as an animal-human conflict situation was bound to happen given the context.
Sundari will probably have to be shifted again somewhere, the place being debated right now.
The tigress will suffer heavy traumatism after being repeatedly tranquillized, plucked and moved from one place to another – let’s remember that these are heavily territorial animals whose entire social structure depends on their habitat.
There will be consequences on conservation projects of the same kind that will probably come to a halt. Relocating tigers has proven very difficult and dangerous if ill-organised. Every initiative will now have to be re-designed and entirely re-thought.
With the destruction of wildlife corridors for human development, all of the most successful tiger reserves in India are over-populated and there is a real urge for Bengal tigers to find new territories to thrive.
Whatever the outcome might be, this episode marks a heavy defeat for tiger conservation. It demonstrates once again how far man has gone to destroy our wild natural habitat and how there is, unfortunately, no going back.