After living most of her life in seclusion, in the free riverine ranges of Sultanpur near Kota, away from the spotlight and attention of tourists and CCTV cameras at the Ranthambore National Park, tigress Sharmilee maintained the mystery surrounding her life in death too.
On Wednesday, some forest guards on a routine morning tracking exercise found Sharmilee’s carcass in the ravines of the Kalisindh river.
She died four days earlier and the body had started to decay when the guards found her.
Unlike other tigers, which are usually embroiled in a struggle for survival with the human population around them, Sharmilee was loved by people. According to forest department sources, locals led an agitation when a Wildlife Institute of India team tried to move her to Sariska or Ranthambore to mate her with other tigers.
With poaching and man-animal conflict unlikely to have caused her death, the forest department is finding it difficult to ascertain what led to her death.
“As of now, we are not ruling out anything. We have collected the viscera sample and anything conclusive could be said only after the postmortem, toxicology and histopathology reports are in,” said a forest official from the Kota range.
The “nine-to-ten year old” Tigress, officially named T-35, had left her home in the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve when she was three.
She was named Sharmilee-the shy one-because of her extremely evasive nature. So much so that ever since she chose to leave Ranthambore’s stardom-and companionship of other big cats-for a life tucked away in the lush ranges of Sultanpur forest near Kota, she was captured only once by CCTV cameras.
“Despite several attempts, she was caught on camera only once, in March 2010,” a forest official told The Express.
According to forest officials, residents living near the Sultanpur range loved her and hence, it is unlikely they would have poisoned her kill.
Department sources said Sharmilee watched over the villages near Sultanpur, “almost like a guardian angel”.
“She prevented other wild animals like panthers from venturing into the forests, neutralized Nilgais that are notorious for destroying standing crops and played a major role in preserving the lush forest since nobody would dare venture inside fearing her,” said an official.
Since the tigress lived alone in the forests, officials tried to move her to either Sariska or back to Ranthambore where she could find a partner and procreate.
However, when a Wildlife Institute of India team tried to tranquilize the tigress, villagers led an agitation, demanding that the animal be allowed to stay in Sultanpur.
“I remember the villagers were not happy about the prospect of her being moved. We tried to move her several times, the last time in 2013, but they did not like it. In any case, she was so evasive, we could not find her. She did not want to be moved…perhaps she did not want companionship,” recalls G Vishvanath Reddy, Chief Wildlife Warden, Rajasthan.
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