It has now become sufficiently clear that the Kerala Wildlife Department had gone wrong in the task of handling the cattle-lifting tiger that was shot dead by a nervous forest guard on December 2.

The tiger, aged around 12 years, shot dead on a coffee plantation near the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary was identified as the same ‘tigress’ that was successfully trapped in a cage on November 14 in another place in the sanctuary and released ‘deep in the forests’ the next day.

A top wildlife official who did not want to be named admitted to The Hindu that it was the same animal. Tiger’s stripes are as dependable as man’s fingerprints to determine the identity of the individual. Each pattern is unique. Photos of the dead tiger and those of the trapped and released tigress were sent by the department to five wildlife institutions in the country for comparison. The reports started reaching the Wildlife Headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday. The reports confirm that the animal is the same. It was just that the officials who had captured and released the ‘first tigress’ could not identify its gender.

There are clear protocols on how to deal with a cattle-lifting tiger that is not a man-eater as this one. Tigers are territorial animals. Each grown up tiger establishes authority over a particular territory in the wildlife habitat around it, often fighting out competitors. Only during the mating time and when the cubs are too young to be on their own can the tigers roam together in the same territory. The weaker of the animal will move out of the territory concerned and even die fighting for the territory.

The tiger captured on November 14 and released ‘far away near Karnataka border’ had apparently no other option than to return to the villages on the borders of the sanctuary. It had turned to cattle-lifting since it was too weak to hunt. But the Wildlife Department did not disclose it was a weak animal when it was captured and released. In such instances, the recommended practice is to take care of it in captivity. Sending it back into the wild will result either in its death fighting a stronger tiger or its unavoidable return to cattle-lifting ways.

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