A DISTURBING sense of déjà vu struck forest officials Monday when they found a tiger carcass in a village on the outskirts of Sariska Tiger Reserve, its life ended by a wire trap a farmer had set to protect his crops. Eight years before ST-11, another tiger, ST-1, had lost its life to the conflict between the forest and villagers in Sariska.
Now, forest officials fear that 11-year-old tigress ST-5, one of the earliest inhabitants of the park, could be the third to have met a similar fate. The park currently has 13 tigers, including the missing ST-5.
ST-5 was last spotted on February 24, in footage captured by a camera trap, G Vishwanath Reddy, additional principal chief conservator of forest, wildlife, and chief wildlife warden, Jaipur, told The Indian Express.
Senior forest officials, trackers and guards are combing the 1,213-sq-km park and venturing into its remotest areas. “The search for ST-5 is going on in places that are extremely dangerous for humans… The risk of being attacked by other tigers is always present. What’s more difficult is that in many of these places, the dense forest cover makes human movement very difficult,” said Gobind Sagar Bhardwaj, chief conservator of forest and field director, Sariska Tiger Project, Alwar.
“The radio signal from ST-5’s collar was intercepted until February 7 before it was lost, according to a report of Wildlife Institute of India. Since then, we have deployed close to 100 personnel trying to track the animal but without much success,” said Bhardwaj.
ST-5’s collar had not been changed for over two years before it stopped working. A WII official, who did not wish to be named, told The Indian Express that the collar had been fitted in December 2015 and could have developed a glitch, or its battery could have run out. A WII team has been permanently stationed at the sanctuary since a decade ago for research and monitoring.
The territory ST-5 frequents is spread over areas such as Kiraska, Umri, Rodkela, Sukola, Pandupole and Devri. Twenty-six villages are situated near the core area, which increases the risk of tigers being killed by villagers.
Forest officials are wary about discussing what might have happened to ST-5. “As of now, we have ruled out the possibility of the animal having been poisoned because, in that case, we would have also found carcasses of other creatures such as birds that died after consuming it. We will first comb the forest and try to spot it through camera traps,” Reddy said.
“Apart from other possibilities such as migration or natural death, she could have also given birth to cubs and maybe that’s why is out of the sight,” said Bhardwaj. He agreed that it would be too optimistic, however, to expect that ST-15, which has never given birth in its long stay at the park, would become a mother now.