Emotional public response to tiger stories is an opportunity for wildlife officials

THE dying of PTRF_84, a three-year-old tigress, at Pench Tiger Reserve final week brings the curtains down on some of the well-liked “tiger stories” of latest instances. The tigress was not an bizarre one, however the “cub of Avni”. The mom had been shot down in November 2018 in Yavatmal district of Vidarbha, as she had been concerned in a number of human deaths, prompting an outcry about the price of human-animal conflicts. Left with out her mom, PTRF_84 was reared in captivity. After two years of rewilding, she was launched into the forest, however she might survive solely a day — she was killed in a turf struggle with one other animal. The life and dying of Avni and her daughter, and the response it evoked in bizarre folks, is an illustration of an rising emotional entanglement with tigers. For the forest division and conservation officials, nevertheless, the bags of public sentiments is not at all times welcome.

The forest division had to first cope with an outpouring of emotion when Avni, formally T1, was shot lifeless within the forest of Pandharkawada in Yavatmal district, underneath authorities orders after being declared a man-eater. In 2016, Jai, beloved to be India’s largest tiger, had mysteriously disappeared from the Umred-Paoni-Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary in Nagpur district, main to a public outcry that snowballed right into a political subject. The then-Devendra Fadnavis authorities was at pains to defend itself, with activists in addition to the Opposition upping the ante. Of late, one other tiger nicknamed Walker, additionally in Pandharkawada, discovered world limelight due to its epic journey of over 3,000 km over six months to attain a sanctuary in Buldana district. Simply as he appeared to have settled down there for good, the information of his disappearance for the previous month and a half has tiger lovers and activists frightened once more.

Wildlife officials, nevertheless, aren’t too keen about this steady monitoring by activists in addition to the media. They have a tendency to have a look at such episodes as routine and inevitable in tiger ecology. They argue that so long as tiger numbers are rising, the disappearance of a selected tiger shouldn’t be hyped into an emotive subject. The occasional and “obligatory” capturing of a tiger declared man-eater also needs to not be subjected to a gruelling scrutiny because it not solely brings down the forest staffers’ morale but in addition shapes their response to such incidents sooner or later. What’s the large deal a few sure tiger not being noticed, they ask. Tigers have their very own methods of survival and maintaining monitor of an particular person tiger can’t be the focal concern of conservation, whose mandate is to attend to the entire species and never an particular person.

Whereas their view can’t be faulted, they will ignore rising public sentiment solely on the threat of coming throughout as inflexible and non-accommodative. To say that Jai or Walker are like another tiger is removed from being true. They’re celebrity massive cats who entice not simply bizarre tiger lovers but in addition celebrities. When Jai walked in Umred sanctuary, it had develop into an enormous tourism hotspot with nationwide and worldwide cricketing and movie celebrities making a beeline to see the 250-kg male who dominated huge tracts of forest. Walker, too, has earned his place in tiger folklore together with his marathon stroll. His radio collar was eliminated final yr and that has made monitoring his motion troublesome. With no oblique indicators of his presence for some time, it is pure for bizarre tiger lovers to ask questions on his well-being. There are lots of tigresses within the Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh however the well-known Collarwali Baghin continues to be the darling of tiger lovers due to her being one with probably the most (seven) litters on report but. This is not to recommend that the managers ought to focus solely on these “movie star” tigers. However they will’t ignore the good, typically extreme, public curiosity in particular person tigers. By letting their consideration slip, they solely invite the query that if they will’t deal with such particular tigers, what should be the standard of conservation of the a number of others that anonymously roam the forests?

The eye on tigers additionally presents itself as an opportunity for the division to unlearn a few of their ineffective conservation methods. In Avni cub’s case, for instance, the forest division’s resolution to launch her within the rapid neighborhood of the enclosure the place she underwent “re-wilding” had all the trimmings of a failed mission. The tigress had obtained injured earlier in a conflict with a resident tigress that had reportedly attacked her from exterior the enclosure. So, it was solely to be anticipated, with a lot larger chance, that such assaults would recur after her launch into the wild.

The officials had additionally thought of the choice of shifting her to Dnyanganga wildlife sanctuary, as a possible mate for Walker. However they shied away from it as it will have entailed creating the island-like sanctuary with hall connectivity for the long run tigers to escape the prospect of in-breeding. In the long run, the simpler choice proved deadly for the tigress. And Walker, too, went lacking, maybe looking for a mate. No marvel conservationists and tiger lovers are in misery.

This column first appeared within the print version on March 17, 2021 underneath the title ‘The massive cat fan membership’. vivek.deshpande@expressindia.com

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