Eight months after the hunt for the Pandharkawda maneater tigress T1 ended in her controversial death at the hands of a sharpshooter, the tigress’s cub, T1C1, is giving forest officials a hard time, evading every trap laid out for him.
So far, the cub has sidestepped a wide net spread across out Yavatmal’s forests in Maharashtra and has angrily lunged at an elephant carrying a team of tiger-catchers.
For 53 days in November last year, the cub’s mother T1, nicknamed Avni, had given the entire forest machinery, including top officers, drones and sniffer dogs, the slip. When T1 was finally shot dead, her cubs were not found and the forest department had decided to capture them, fearing their maneating mother would have left her “imprint” on them. T1C1 and his female sibling, T1C2, were then about a year old. While T1C2 was captured 50 days after the death of their mother and sent to a large enclosure in the Pench Tiger Reserve, the hunt for T1C1 continues, making it the longest operation in the country to catch a wild cat.
“We are still tracking him. But all his movements are at night when our Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) prohibits us from using a tranquillisation shot. It is as if he got wind of our SOP restriction,” said Maharashtra PCCF (Wildlife) Nitin Kakodkar.
The forest department has continued to operate its special camp near Tarati village, the same camp from where the operation to hunt down T1 was monitored, to track the elusive cub, with an Assistant Conservator of Forest heading the operation.
Officials say they have tried “all possible tricks” to capture the cub but it has managed to evade them. In one attempt, they had spread out a wide net on the forest floor near a tree, to which they tied animals as bait. The net was hooked to a pulley and officials hoped that the minute TIC1 walked on to the net towards the bait, they would trap the animal. But the camera traps show the cub avoiding the net.
According to officials, T1C1’s aggression towards the team has made the task more challenging. He is no longer a cub – at 17-18 months, T1C1 is a sub-adult, almost of the size of a full-grown tiger. About five months ago, a team of tiger catchers from Madhya Pradesh mounted on elephants had to retreat after the cub reportedly lunged at the biggest of the four elephants that had encircled him.
All along, T1C1 has been eating the bait the tracking team has used to lure him. “He, however, eats them only during the night (when the SOP comes into effect) and never shows up during the day,” said Kakodkar.
Also in the area is T1C1’s father, who, forest officials say, “has never posed any problems” for people or the forest department. The camera traps in the forest have often caught them in close proximity, but are unsure if they have run into each other at any point in time. Male tigers, even if father and son, are known to fight for territorial control.
Thankfully, he said, the cub hasn’t attacked humans or cattle. “During summers, cowherds don’t venture deep into the forest. So, there is not so much to worry about on that count,” said Kakodkar. Most of T1’s victims were cowherds.
But Kakodkar isn’t sure how long the chase will continue and said, “We hope we will be able to bring this operation to its logical end well in time.”