A wildlife survey for the critically endangered Malabar Civet has led to the “first authenticated sighting” of an adult tigress near Athirumala, between Neyyar and Peppara wildlife reserves, almost 60 km northeast of the city. P.K. Jayakumar Sharma, Wildlife Warden, Neyyar, said wildlife researcher A. Mathews Nixon Armstrong had on January 24 set up a camera trap deep inside the moist deciduous lowland forests of the Western Ghats to spot the elusive civet.

Mr. Armstrong told The Hindu that he had placed the trap on the side of a narrow riding path the British had cut through the dense forests in the early 19th century.

The path linked Peppara and Pandipath in the Neyyar reserve to Athirumala, where the remnants of an abandoned tea estate could still be seen. “Only that the untended tea shrubs have become tall as trees now,” he said. On January 28, Mr. Armstrong revisited the spot to check if the camera had captured anything. Among a score of pictures, including that of leopards and barking deer, was the photograph of a stalking tigress weighing an estimated 450 kg.

The camera had captured the predator's image at 2 p.m. on January 24, exactly half-an-hour after the device was placed in position and activated.

“It was possible that the tigress was watching me from somewhere near as I placed the trap. The thought still inspires fear and awe,” Mr. Armstrong said.

Wildlife enforcers, who analysed the photograph, said it could be a lactating mother with cubs. They presumed it was out to hunt when the camera snapped its photograph. They said the presence of the apex predator indicated that the Neyyar-Peppara forests were healthy and abundant with herbivores (at least 400 for one tiger).

The “home range” of a tigress was about 10 sq. km. A male tiger's home range extends up to 120 sq km and could overlap the territories of several females. It was possible that the tigress could have come from the Kalakkad-Mundanthurai tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu, which was contiguous with Neyyar. The Hindu had reported earlier that wildlife enforcers had spotted a tiger kill, the rotting and half-eaten carcass of a wild buffalo weighing at least 600 kg, while on a trek to survey the endangered Nilgiri Tahr population on the Varayattumudi hill in February last year.

Wildlife enforcers said the sighting of the predator would mean heightened vigil and better protection and conservation of the wildlife reserves.

Keywords: wildlife survey