The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is set to give a green signal to release the cub of Avni, who was shot dead in November 2018, in the wild after its successful “re-wilding” in an enclosure in Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR).
The NTCA Technical Committee, headed by member-Secretary S P Yadav, on Friday gave an in-principle approval to the release. “The committee has agreed to the release proposed by us. It will soon issue an order to the effect,” said Maharashtra Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Nitin Kakodkar, who attended Friday’s meeting.
Kakodkar added, “The committee was satisfied with the re-wilding of T1C2.”
Re-wilding is the process of making an animal learn the ropes of life in a jungle with focus on developing hunting skills. During the process, the supervising staff released a tiger’s natural prey, like cheetals, sambhars and wild boars, in a 5-hectare enclosure.”We ensured virtually zero human imprint on the tigress in the process,” Kakodkar said.
“We had suggested three areas for its release – Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR), Gadchiroli and PTR. The committee settled for PTR for the reasons that she is already familiar with the area, PTR has much better preybase compared to the other two areas, the local staff is also well acquainted with it and the tigress has been interacting with tigers on the other side of the enclosure,” he added.
“We will decide on an early date for the release since we want to do it in winter only,” he added.
The tigress, T1C2, captured as a cub in December 2017 after its mother T1, nicknamed Avni, was killed in a controversial shooting under government orders. Avni was found to be responsible for five human deaths in Pandharkawda forest of Yavatmal district.
Avni’s other cub, T1C1, a male, however, eluded capture despite several months of pursuit before forest officials wound up the operation.
Another tigress, captured on September 26 from Pandharkawada forest after killing two people, will take T1C2’s place in the enclosure, according to PTR field director Ravikiran Govekar.
Kakodkar said, “T1C2 will be radio-collared before release and will be closely monitored after that.”
The release of the Pandharkawda tigress in the enclosure would be an intermediate step before its release in a suitable forest area. “In Pandharkawda, it was used to preying on cattle near villages. In the enclosure, it will get to kill its natural prey. We hope to then release it back in the wild hoping it would remain confined to inviolate forest, preferring its natural prey,” said Kakodkar.
Explaining the possible method of release, he said, “It could be either by simply opening the enclosure or tranquilising it and then releasing it in a designated area.”
Asked what if it prefers returning to the area it has become used to for the past two years, Govekar said, “How will it with a new tigress being there in the enclosure? And it’s an experiment. So, there could be some unforseen things.”