Aged 6 years, TF2 alias Ganeshpipri is set to be the first hand-reared big cat to be released in the wild in Maharashtra. Such experiments have been undertaken earlier in Madhya Pradesh.
TF2 would be fitted with a radio collar and tracked by the authorities to check if and how she is adjusting to the new realities.
One of the three siblings rescued from Gondpipri village in Chandrapur tehsil after their mother suddenly went missing, TF2 has been in a 3.5 hectare large enclosure in Pench Tiger Reserve area for the last more than two years. After much brainstorming for the past three years or so, it was decided to release her in Pench only.
“The release will be done within a fortnight,” said Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Sargan Bhagat. One of the siblings, Bhangaram Talodhi, a male, has already been shifted to Katraj zoo in Pune since he was found in the habit of staring at humans as against the natural tiger tendency to shy away. The third, a female called Sukhwasi, is still in a small chain-linked fencing enclosure and has betrayed ‘human imprint’ (familiarity with humans). Hence, it was decided against releasing her in the wild right now.
Field Director of Pench Tiger Reserve Srinivas Reddy had suggested that the tigress be released in some low tiger density area like Melghat. He opined that the tigress would find carving out her own space difficult in Pench that already has the highest tiger density with 25 tigers staying in about 257 sq km area.
The expert committee formed to take a call, however, decided that searching for any space in an area like Melghat would further add to the delay caused by various factors so far. “We also thought that she is already conversant with the Pench landscape. Melghat terrain is hilly and undulating and hence it would be very difficult to keep track of her,” Bhagat told The Indian Express.
The committee comprising experts from the Wildlife Institute of India and the National Tiger Conservation Authority besides senior forest officials found the tigress fit to hunt on the basis of her track record of killing over 200 cheetals over the last two years.
“We will keep a close watch on her to see how she is faring. In case of any doubts about her being able to survive territorial conflicts with other tigers or her coming in close contact with human settlements, we will exercise the option of tranquillising her and potting her back in the same enclosure,” Bhagat added.
Udayan Patil and Swanand Soni, members of Srushti, a wildlife NGO that collected over Rs 12 lakh for the three siblings’ feed, said all their efforts over the last six years were bearing fruit. They said they were happy that “at least one of them is going back to where they naturally belong”.