On Tuesday morning, Shaikh Sahabuddin, a headmaster of a local school in Assam’s Tezpur, woke up to a distressed call from his nephew. A tiger was loose in Borguri, where Sahabuddin had grown up — it had attacked a child, killed a cow, and had the entire village out of their homes. The 55-year-old immediately dialed the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Sonitpur, where the village is located, for help.
It was only after an operation lasting 12 hours that forest department officials were finally able to guide the tiger out of the village on Tuesday night. “After our efforts, the tiger finally moved away at night,” said Saurav Borkataki, animal rescuer and former Honorary Wildlife Warden of Sonitpur, who was one of the first to reach the site.
However, what ensued before was a “breakneck” situation — as described by Assam Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya in a Facebook post on Tuesday night. Before the officials arrived, a crowd had gathered in the village. “There were easily 500 people,” said Sahabuddin, who lives in Tezpur town, 1.5 km away, “Everyone wanted a glimpse of the tiger. A few boys even tried to chase it away themselves, and that was when the tiger turned around and ran towards them.” In a video clip, circulated widely on social media, the tiger can be seen chasing a crowd, and finally following one man — an auto rickshaw driver from Borguri — in a dramatic dive, and landing into an open pit, before scurrying away into a bamboo grove close by. “Luckily, he sustained only minor injuries,” said Sahabuddin, “Perhaps the fall was too much of a shock and that is what made the tiger run away.”
Forest officials believe the tiger is now making its way to the Kaziranga National Park, which is home to the famous one-horned rhinoceros and located across the Brahmaputra river from Borguri.
This is not the first time a tiger has been spotted in this part of Sonitpur district. In 2016 and 2017, two such incidents — involving two Royal Bengal tigers — were reported near the North Eastern Regional Institute of Water and Land Management campus in Tezpur’s Dolabari area. “At least one or two appear every year,” said Borkataki, “Long back, before settlements appeared here, the entire area functioned as a tiger corridor.”
Borguri is located on the north bank of the Brahmaputra river, in the Napam area, adjacent to Tezpur University. According to forest officials, the village lies in a landscape part of a greater tiger habitat connecting Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve in the south, Nameri National Park and Tiger Reserve in the north and Orang National Park and Tiger Reserve in the west. “The tiger could have been moving in between any of these habitats — but we suspect it probably came from Kaziranga and was going towards Laokhowa Sanctuary in the west, or maybe even Orang,” said Borkataki.
Sahabuddin said elephants and rhinos, too, make frequent appearances in their village. According to Director of Kaziranga National Park, P Sivakumar, Nameri, Orang and Kaziranga are part of a single tiger landscape. “And it is normal for them to move around — it could be for various reasons: infighting, mating etc,” he said, “Between these parks, there are 150 + tigers and most of them use the riverine corridor (Brahmaputra and its tributaries) to move.” In August, a preliminary notification from the Environment and Forest Department, Assam, announced the 7th, 8th and 9th additions to Kaziranga. The 9th is a riverine corridor which will connect Kazirnaga to Nameri.
According to Pankaj Sarma, DFO, Western Assam wildlife division, tigers frequently move between Kaziranga and Nameri, or Kaziranga and Orang. “The landscape — full of tea gardens, grasslands etc — is conducive for their movement. They usually take cover and move, but this time they unfortunately entered a village,” he said, “Tigers are intelligent animals, and are not easy to track — unlike elephants, which are big and easily noticeable.”
Ranjit Konwar, DFO Sonitpur West Division, who led the operation, said that the tiger was a fully mature adult. “We could not determine its sex,” he said, adding that the entire operation had four DFOs present, along with veterinarians from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation, Kaziranga. “We chose not to tranquillise the animal because it was too risky — it was an open area, surrounded by people and it takes at least half an hour for the shot to work, so there was always the risk of it attacking people.” The team attempted to drive it away, making loud noises. “Finally, around 6pm, it started moving away,” he said, “With Royal Bengal tigers, once it takes the route, it usually sticks to it, so we are hopeful that this one will too.”
Meanwhile, residents of Borguri have heaved a collective sigh of relief after the events of the day before. “While initially there was a lot of excitement, the villagers have now hopefully understood that it is important to not disturb the tiger,” said Sahabuddin.
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