Machli, the celebrated ‘Queen Mother’ of tigers, was sighted in the Ranthambhore National Park in Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan on Tuesday after she eluded two dozen camera traps and over 200 forest officials hunting for her for about a month. She is in good health despite being 17 years old.
The tigress, identified as T-16, once reigned supreme in the woods of Ranthambhore and produced many cubs but has now lost most of her canines. More than half of the tiger population in Ranthambhore and Sariska tiger reserves of Rajasthan is of her lineage, as her two female cubs were airlifted to Sariska in 2008 to repopulate tigers.
The tigress, who has been missing from January 9, was spotted in the Bhoot Khurra area of the Kachida Valley in the national park on Tuesday. She appeared before one of the teams of forest guards, prompting them to break the much-awaited news over the wireless.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Rahul Kumar told The Hindu on Wednesday that Machli had survived in the dense forest by hunting her own prey despite her advanced age. “This is a positive sign. The decision on continuing with the practice of offering her prey by the forest staff will be taken at the local level.” Earlier, domestic animals tied to a tree or post were offered to the toothless tigress on a regular basis amid a debate on whether wild animals should be artificially fed. The 17-year-old Machli is considered the world’s longest living tigress in the wild, besides being the most-photographed big cat.
Mr. Kumar said Machli was an important tigress for the Ranthambhore National Park and the Forest Department would take care of her. The authorities were under tremendous pressure during the last month to find out if the tigress was dead or alive.
Two dozen camera traps were installed at strategic locations in the tiger territory and teams of over 200 officials patrolled the park since Machli went missing. Officials claimed that they had found pugmarks of a tiger, but the feline could not be identified for sure.
Conservation biologist Dharmendra Khandal, attached to Tiger Watch, told The Hindu that Machli was in the last phase of her life. “The life span of a tiger in the wild is about 12 years. Machli is akin to a 120-year-old human being. At this age, her fewer sightings are not unusual.”
Mr. Khandal said Machli, even in her wild habitat, was restricted to a limited area in the national park, as four tigers had intruded into her conventional abode.
Two of them were her own male cubs, one was a female and the fourth the female’s mate. Machli, famous as a magnificent creature among the tourists visiting Ranthambhore, became known to global wildlife enthusiasts when National Geography and Animal Planet channels telecast a 50-minute film Tiger Queen shot by ace cameraman Nalla Muthu, a few years ago.