Machli alias, T16 alias, the Lady of the Lake. The tiger legend is dead. Finally. The news has shocked tiger lovers across the globe. But to many, it has also come as a relief. Because it also put an end to the pathetic spectacle of an amazing wild tiger being reduced to a living relic.
Without the tethered baits the forest department provided her for the last seven years, Machli would have long been dead. There was a reason however, that the majority in the wildlife fraternity were desperate not to lose her.
As tigers disappeared from Rajasthan with poachers striking at will in the first half of the last decade, the very sight of Machli — strolling, stalking, ambushing, still raising more cubs or just minding her own business — was one of the few reassuring constants.
The once reigning queen of the three majestic lakes beneath the craggy fort at the heart of Ranthambore, Machli was indeed a very special cat. The envy of every single mother, she raised nine cubs in four litters between 2000 and 2008. Every day, hundreds of tourists scoured the forest to seek her out. Every year, thousands of pilgrims walked all over her territory on their way to Ranthambore’s Ganesh temple. The fiercely protective mother always held her nerve.
Machli’s courage and determination make her a remarkable survivor. She repeatedly took on deadly marsh crocodiles bigger than herself and overcame them. Even after those mortal combats cost her two canines, she continued to hunt successfully and went on to raise five cubs in two litters.
As her legend grew, Machli became the biggest and the best advertisement for tiger conservation. In 2009, when she was awarded for lifetime achievement, it was rather conservatively estimated that she had generated $10 million for the local economy through tourism. Millions of tourists on Machli pilgrimages have visited Ranthambhore since.
But that was not her biggest miracle.
Almost single-handedly, Machli steered India’s fragile westernmost population of tigers through an ominous decade. Her bloodline has produced at least 50 tigers in Ranthambhore, including her own nine cubs from three males, and two other females sent to repopulate Sariska.
Against all odds, Machli raised her fourth litter at the ripe age of 11 and without two canines. Eight years on, all Machli had was half a canine, a little patch of her once vast territory, and some of her indomitable spirit. While she still made occasional kills, the forest department fed her under public glare.
Machli’s last years added to her legend but she had long stopped serving any purpose in nature’s scheme of things which does not allow an old unproductive individual to hang on and waste finite resources. Yet, we kept Machli alive because it gave us an emotional and moral high.
Machli’s life taught us that given an opportunity, a single cat can turn a wild population around. Her death should make us realise that by not letting her go, we probably made it a little more difficult for her successors to do a Machli.
Now that the legend is dead, young tigresses will follow in her pug marks and hopefully rival her many feats. If they succeed, let’s vow not to do a Machli on them once they are done being wild tigers.
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