Two recent tiger rescue operations by the Forest Department in Maharashtra have drawn upon a little-used provision in the standard operating procedure (SOP) for orphan cubs, which allows intervention despite the animals being in trouble due to natural causes.
Normally, no intervention is allowed to rescue animals, including tigers, in protected areas (PAs), since it interferes with the process of natural selection and the principle of the survival of the fittest.
But in August, officials picked up an orphaned cub from Khatoda area in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), where it was found in an extremely malnourished condition. It was taken to the Transit Treatment Centre in Chandrapur and then to the Gorewada Rescue Centre in Nagpur on December 27.
On Saturday, officials from the Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) rescued a 10-month-old starving cub, which had been rendered immobile due to porcupine quills stuck in its foot, in Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. The quills were removed after tranquilising the animal, and it was released back into the wild on Sunday.
“Normally, we leave the animal…but the SOP for orphan cubs, which are called runt, allows such intervention,” said Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Nitin Kakodkar.
“We used that provision to rescue these two male cubs. Last month, we allowed a two-year-old tigress to die in the natural course from grevious injuries she had suffered in a clash with an Indian gaur. But the Khatoda cub was severely malnourished and had to be picked up by hand. Today, it has become very healthy but unfortunately, will have to live a life in captivity, since it is carrying human imprints and will be unable to live in the wild.”
PTR field director Ravikiran Govekar said, “The Tipeshwar cub was moving with another male sibling, while their mother and a female sibling were moving separately in nearby hills. The two cubs apparently tried to hunt porcupines and ended up getting stuck with the quills. They managed to remove most of those quills — we counted over 30 from the spot. However, this particular cub couldn’t manage to extricate two quills stuck in his foot, and hence was unable to move.”
The forest officials decided to wait after they first spotted the cub on December 12, to see if it could rescue itself.
“All this while, the other male remained in its company, and both were starving. So we decided to intervene. After shooing the other cub away, we tranquilised the immobile one and removed the quills from its foot. After it regained consciousness, we gave it meat. We also gave some pieces to the other cub, which was loitering around. After monitoring the rescued cub for about 24 hours, we released it back into the wild.”
“The Tipeshwar cub had no human imprint, so immediate release back into the wild was possible,” Govekar added. “A small intervention like this doesn’t affect the animal’s natural capacity to survive on its own.”
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