New Year could bring good news for Ustad — the Ranthambore tiger that was shifted to a zoo in Udaipur for being a man-eater — with the state government hinting at providing the big cat with a bigger home. If all goes according to the plan, T24, alias Ustad, could soon be relocated from his less than one-hectare enclosure at the Sajjangarh biological park near Udaipur to “at least a 50-hectare area” inside a tiger reserve.
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Rajasthan’s minister of environment and wildlife Gajendra Singh Khimsar — who hinted at the possibility following a review meeting on Tuesday — however, ruled out rehabilitating Ustad into the wild. “We are trying to get him to a bigger home. The enclosure at Sajjangarh is too small for him,” Khimsar told The Indian Express on Wednesday.
“But before that, there are certain precautionary steps that need to be taken. We have sent his blood samples to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilly. Let us first get the results and if everything goes fine, we will take a call about relocating him,” Khimsar said.
The forest department has insisted on keeping the tiger at Sajjangarh as it allows for better medical monitoring as Ustad has been suffering from several health complications ever since he was brought to Udaipur in 2015 from his 5,000-hectare home in Ranthambore National Park. “We will explore all options. He will perhaps be soft-released into a larger enclosure, at least 50-hectares, within Sariska or some other tiger reserve,” the minister said.
“But we are clear about not releasing him into the wild as of now, as he could still be dangerous for humans,” he added. Ustad’s story has divided former officials and wildlife experts, with some arguing for his release into the wild, while others commending the forest department for shifting him to a zoo in time.
The relocation also sparked off a row between the forest department and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the apex body for tiger conservation in India. The NTCA has repeatedly taken the department to task, accusing it of violating Standard Operating Procedures and erroneously lebelling Ustad a man-eater.
T24, better known as Ustad, was translocated out of the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in May, 2015, after he mauled a forest guard to death. He was shifted to a small enclosure at the Sajjangarh Biological park in Udaipur, about 400 km away.