In what is being touted as an unprecedented success story,a hand-reared tigress has given birth to two cubs less than a year after it was released into the wild at the Panna tiger reserve.
Terming it as the biggest win so far,the field director of Panna tiger reserve,R Srinivasmurthy,said: There is poetic justice in this happening at Panna where the entire tiger population was lost. The tiger population at Panna is now up to over 13,after being completely wiped out three years back.
The hand-reared tigress from Kanha reserve,identified as T-4,was released in Panna on March 27 last year. Its sibling,T-5,was also released in Panna on December 13 last year. While T-4 gave birth to the cubs in mid-November last year (the exact date is not known),T-5 is also doing well,said officials.
Both T-4 and T-5,along with a male cub,were born to a radio-collared tigress,called No. 9,in Kanha around 2004-05. When they were less than a month old,the mother was mauled to death by the dominant male in the area. The cubs were then retrieved and kept in a cabin,and only a forest guard was allowed near them. Even the vet needed the field directors permission to check on the cubs.
Talking to The Sunday Express from his Bhubaneswar home,the then Kanha field director,Khageswar Nayak,said: I would also not go near the cubs because we did not want them to become too familiar with humans. We tried giving them hunting lessons by introducing live animals. It was a disaster initially. When we introduced a live chicken,the three cubs huddled in a corner and the chicken,seeing three tigers,collapsed and died.
Eventually,the cubs were shifted to a five-six hectare enclosure in Ghorela. We would chase kills into it and watch what the cubs did from machans, said Nayak.
When the forest department officials thought that the cubs were ready for the wild,Sariska was the first choice. But after considering the climate and other factors,T-4 and T-5 were transferred to Panna,a move which raised a lot of protests from conservationists at that time.
When the release was mooted,even I opposed it. But the births have opened a new window in conservation, said Srinivasmurthy.,T-4s survival was not without hiccups. In the initial days,she lost about 15 kgs from her 134-kg frame,so much so that her radiocollar fell off. But she is well now,and so are the cubs.
This has huge conservation implications and is unprecedented. In Africa,big cats are released,but most of them are wild animals who are returned to the wild,and even then they are kept in massive enclosures. Panna is the first case of hand-reared animals surviving in the wild, said H S Paola,who retired as the chief wildlife warden of Madhya Pradesh last month. The experience opens the possibility of a planned programme of introducing tigers born in zoos into the wild through careful planning.