March 15, 2021 4:23:00 am
BARELY A week after she was released into the wild at the Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Maharashtra following two years of “rewilding lessons”, a three-year-old tigress that was better known as “cub of Avni” succumbed to injuries that officials said were sustained during a territorial clash with another tigress.
The tigress was injured shortly after being released from a 5.44-hectare enclosure in PTR where she had spent most of the last two years learning to hunt natural prey and “with no human imprint”.
Tagged in Pench as PTRF_84, she was captured in December 2018 from Pandharkawada in Yavatmal district after her mother T1, or Avni, was declared a man-eater and shot dead in November that year. Within a couple of days after her release this month, she clashed with another tigress, believed to be the resident of the area, and received injuries to her front limb and chest, officials said.
“She was inside a treatment cage in the enclosure and was being monitored and treated daily by the veterinary officers. On Saturday evening it was found that her health was deteriorating. (The) veterinary team advised (us) to shift her to Gorewada Rescue Centre in Nagpur. Immediately, preparations were made. She, however, succumbed to her injuries around 10 pm. The veterinary team tried its best to provide emergency treatment,” a press note issued by PTR Field Director Ravikiran Govekar said.
Govekar told The Indian Express that “the injuries didn’t seem fatal but probably she had internal injuries, which will be confirmed after post-mortem.”
Nitin Kakodkar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, told The Indian Express that the post-mortem showed critical internal injuries and haemorrhage.
Incidentally, the tigress had injured her paw last December while in the enclosure. Authorities had said it could have been due to a skirmish with another tiger that may have charged at her. Officials have not ruled out the possibility that the same tigress was involved in the latest clash.
When Forest Department authorities decided to release PTRF_84 after consulting the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), they had explored Gadchiroli, Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR) and PTR. After initially leaning towards NNTR due to its sparse tiger population, they had settled upon PTR for its better prey base and the tigress’s familiarity with the area.
Another suggestion was to release her in the Dnyanganga Wildlife Sanctuary in Buldana district, where another Pandharkawada tiger, Walker, had made its home after a record-breaking journey of over 3,000 km. This would have ensured a mate for Walker and eliminated the threat of a territorial clash since Walker was the first tiger to walk into Dnyanganga.
The authorities, however, decided against it since Walker and the tigress belonged to the same gene pool of Pandharkawada. They also wanted to prevent inbreeding among their progeny because Dynanganga, in its present form, is like an island.
Asked if NNTR or Dnyanganga could have been a better option, Kakodkar said: “We had deliberated all the options threadbare and had finally settled for PTR as it provided ample preybase and much better monitoring as the staff had been taking care of the tigress for over two years.”
Asked if the death would impact rewilding experiments in the future, he said: “I don’t think so. This is a learning process and we have to always make amends to make it more foolproof in future. Else, every captured tiger would end up in a cage or in safaris.”
Meanwhile, Walker, which had stayed in Dnyanganga for over a year after wandering several districts, has not been spotted for about a month-and-a-half. Authorities believe he may have moved out in search of a mate. “We have intensified the search and hope to trace him soon,” said Kakodkar.
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