New beginning for big cats at this reserve, which lost all tigers to poaching

The family of big cats is back in the Sariska Tiger Reserve (STR) after a couple of years' absence. A fifth tiger, a cute 30-month-old female, was brought there from the Ranthambhore National Park (RTN), also in Rajasthan, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, marking the completion of the first phase of the species recovery plan prepared and being executed by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). The first tiger was brought to Sariska on June 28, 2008.

Now it is a family of five — two males and three females — dwelling in the reserve, 190 km from the national capital on the Jaipur-Delhi highway.

Recovery plan

The reserve lost all the tigers, reportedly due to poaching, during 2004-05 and the recovery plan was chalked out after a visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Ranthambhore.

T 44, weighing 135 kg, darted into the thicket of Dhok trees the moment Rajasthan Minister for Forests and Environment Ramlal Jat lifted the heavy door of the cage, in which she was brought by an Indian Air Force helicopter. It was a twilight hour and the animal, awake from the stupor caused by sedation earlier, virtually sprang across, giving out a loud snort, and in five seconds — much to the disappointment of camerapersons — it was gone.

Her pace perhaps became accentuated as she slipped on wet mud before she sprang into the wild of a temporary enclosure. Every new tiger introduced into the park is made to stay in the enclosure until it gets fully acclimatised to the new terrain.

“She is a pretty looking female. Bahut sundar [very beautiful], said K. Shankar, one of the WII scientists who is entrusted with the species recovery plan. “She came sleeping all the way. She never woke up even once during the flight.”

Barring a male, which was brought by road on July 20, all tigers were flown from Ranthambhore by IAF helicopters. “She is radio-collared and daily data on her movements would be available through GPS and satellite,” said Mr. Shankar.

DNA done

T 44, daughter of T 30 also referred to as Jhailko female, was darted (for its safe capture) at Dhaoli Bhawri near Glaisagar in the Khandar range of the RTN around 11.30 AM and was brought to Sariska around 5.20 PM. As in the case of the previous tiger, a DNA analysis was done on the tigress before her selection in order to avoid any possible genetic incompatibility.

“She was separated from her mother at the age of four months and has not littered yet,” said B.S. Shekhawat, RNP Field Director, who accompanied her to Sariska. Now RNP has 39 tigers, besides cubs.

Part I mission over

At Sariska, “the first part of the mission is over. We now will wait for two years before introducing any new tiger,” said Rajesh Gopal, member-secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority. “From now on every second year, two more tigers — one male and one female — could be reintroduced, if needed. If the present group breeds and multiplies, this may not be even needed.”

“This is a new beginning at Sariska for the family of cats. Now everything will be alright. I am sure their tribe will flourish,” said an optimistic Jat. He, along with Vaibah Gehlot, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's wildlife enthusiast-son, and forest officials including R.N. Mehrotra, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Rajasthan, was in the park to witness the re-birth of the cat family at Sariska.