The disappearance of an aged tigress has triggered a major search operation in an Uttarakhand reserve forest—involving three elephants, 35 sensor cameras and 70 forest personnel across four range areas.
The 20-year-old tigress—codenamed T1—has been living in Rajaji Tiger Reserve’s Motichur range for well over a decade. After June, however, it has not been caught on the cameras installed around its territory. Its pug marks, too, have not been found for over a month.
The search operations are painstaking. Four search teams are patrolling the Motichur range, four are combing Kansaro, three are in Beriwada and one is in Haridwar range. Three elephants were also called in from the Chilla range on Sunday, and each morning, four personnel with each animal trek over 10 to 15 km and return in the evening. All teams are carrying cameras to capture images—either of the tigress or its pug marks and scat. Around 40 sensor cameras, in addition to the existing 35, will be installed over the next few days on possible trek routes in Kansaro range.
The reason for all this is not surprising. Rajaji Tiger Reserve is spread out over 1,075 sq km. Its eastern zone has 35 tigers while its western zone has only two tigresses, one of which is T1. To increase the tiger population in the western zone, the authorities had decided to translocate five tigers from Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve. To that end, both tigresses in Motichur range were being monitored over the last several months.
At the time of tiger census earlier this year, cameras were installed outside Motichur range, too. Then, T1’s movement was recorded near Kansaro and Beriwada ranges n June, according to officials. The cameras outside Motichur were removed after the end of the census. Officials suspect that the tigress had moved out of Motichur which would explain why its movement was not recorded in any camera after June.
On Wednesday, one team found some pug marks in Kansaro range, about 15-km from Koilpura in Motichur range. Officials are hopeful that these pug marks belong T1.
Rajaji Tiger Reserve Director DK Singh said a scat sample, too, has been sent to Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for testing. “It is almost sure that these pug marks are of that tigress only. But it will be confirmed with the test reports and also when the tigress will be seen directly by someone or will be captured in any image,” Singh said.
Till such confirmation, the search operation continues.
A forest official said that the new sensor cameras, which are being installed in Kansaro and Beriwada ranges, will remain in place in for future observation of the tigress’ movement.