WHEN iconic tiger Jai (T1) from Vidarbha’s Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary (UKWS) went missing in April 2016, it raised a lot of questions — ranging from the quality of tiger protection and monitoring to the utility and efficacy of radio collars.
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A year-long monitoring of his two radio-collared sub-adult cubs T9 and T10, popularly known as Bittu and Srinivas, has for the first time shed light on how cubs take baby steps to survive in stressful territories dominated by humans and adult tigers to gain enough weight — physical and in terms of might — to throw around in the future.
This is the longest period for which sub-adult male tigers have been monitored through a GPS PLUS radio collar anywhere in the country. Fitted first on March 17 last year on both the siblings, the collars were replaced with new ones in January (T10) and February (T9), which will hopefully extend the monitoring till the time the two grow into mighty adults able to challenge superior males.
And the results so far have thrown up an interesting journey through thick forests and patchy corridors, streams and rivers, highways and railway tracks and farmlands and human settlements, on different trajectories.
A study by Wildlife Institute of India team led by scientist Bilal Habib, his colleague Parag Nikam, researchers Pallavi Ghaskadvi and Zahidul Hussain and former Pench Tiger Reserve Field Director Srinivas Reddy has shown how the two brothers have survived through these areas living like nomads, often staying at a particular place for just 4-5 days and at least once crossing each other’s paths —which led to T9 (Bittu) getting pushed out.
“We have known dispersing tigers pass through fragmented corridors and survive in non-protected forests and human-dominated landscapes, but this is the first time we have actually been able to track their journey for such a long period. The two tigers siblings were just 21 months old when first radio-collared after they showed the signs of wandering out of the eastern part of UKWS. Today, they are about 32 months old and on the cusp of full adulthood. It will be a short while before they join the league of full-grown dominant tigers living like kings in their chosen areas,” Habib told The Indian Express.
Today, both already weigh a huge 230 kg, only a tad below their father’s 240 kg. Interestingly, they have also been photographed with females.Starting from UKWS, the two have walked different paths to currently settle in non-protected Bramhapuri territorial forest of Chandrapur district, with T10 also switching between Bramhapuri and Paoni in Bhandara district.
Incidentally, the whole non-protected landscape between UKWS fringes to Bramhapuri, about 100 km apart, has around 27 tigers, perhaps the highest number for such an area anywhere.
The two had first started moving away from their mother (T3, Fairy) together. Initially, they would separate but meet in a few hours’ time.
The separation grew to days and then Srinivas moved to the adjoining Paoni range and returned to the sanctuary after four days.
He then started moving towards the southern part along the mighty Vainganga river, successfully hunting preys.
Bittu, meanwhile, remained confined to his home range. He then followed in his brother’s footsteps to Paoni. During this period, which were monsoon months, Srinivas travelled right up to Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) and returned to Paoni range, covering 320 km in two months.
“Tigers often choose the monsoon to walk around as there is a lot of undergrowth offering cover. And more interestingly, this was the period when a hectic search was on to locate Jai. Yet, nobody noticed the radio-collared Srinivas, showing the tiger’s ability to escape human eye,” Habib said.
This journey was quite like that of his father Jai, who was known to walk from UKWS to Bramhapuri and back, covering a huge area of over 600 sq km, often pairing with as many as four tigresses in these areas.
Srinivas’ tracking revealed interesting facts, like his not staying in a particular area for more than four days, swimming twice across the Vainganga, walking through farms at night and resting in forests in the daytime and generally hunting wild preys.
Bittu had, meanwhile, settled in Paoni but was edged out by Srinivas after he returned there. It was here that Bittu had to start his southward journey. He, however, showed a different character. He rested at night and peak day hours and was active only at dusk and dawn. He travelled along all possible patches — roads, railway tracks, lakes and even village roads. And unlike Srinivas, he was spotted by many villagers.
Ten months after the radio-collaring, Habib’s team was preparing to put the new collar around the cubs’ necks, since the batteries of the first were running out of steam.
“It, however, turned out to be a very difficult task with T9 remaining elusive in Ghodazari forest in Chandrapur district for days. T10 was freshly collared in the Bramhapuri forest,” Habib said.
Habib added: “The study has shown that tigers too could be as adoptable as leopards to the most trying conditions when it comes to their survival. It also prompts us to think in terms of having a conservation strategy for tigers outside PAs. If integrated with the interest of the locals, it could fetch handsome monetary dividends to the latter through conservancy tourism.”
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