Two fighting big cats, one wounded tigress, and two missing cubs at the Panna reserve have raised questions about some aspects of the tiger relocation programme – and the level up to which concerned humans can interfere in natural tiger behaviour.

Poster kids

The animals involved were poster kids for the relocation programme. With no tigers left in Panna, the government had last year shifted two tigresses from Bandhavgarh and Kanha, and a tiger from Pench, in an attempt to revive the Panna reserve.

The tiger had mated with the Bandhavgarh tigress around New Year, and in April, four cubs were born.

However, repeated fighting between the parents in late August and early September left the tigress with wounds on the face and right foreleg.

While it is now recovering, officials have not been able to spot all four cubs together since July 25.

“Why these fights take place at all between the tiger and the tigress is an intriguing question that needs to be answered for further success of Tiger Reintroduction Programme at [Panna Tiger Reserve],” said a report submitted by Panna field director R. Sreenivasa Murthy.

Officials are now “99 per cent certain” that only two live cubs are present with the tigress.

Contrary to reports that the tigress has also gone missing for a few days, the Reserve logs show that it was spotted as recently as 8.35 a.m. on September 13.

Some experts hope that the tigress would be able to recover the two missing cubs, as she had re-united with one of the other cubs after a few days' separation.

However, the report says that the likely reason for their disappearance is that the cubs were victims of the tiger's fury.

Other causes include succumbing to disease or becoming a meal for another carnivore while their mother was away from the den.

“Such conflicts are common among tigers leading to the death of newborn cubs,” said National Tiger Conservation Authority member secretary Rajesh Gopal, commenting on the report.

He will now carry out discussions with other experts “to explore the level up to which the field management can interfere in such natural happenings”.