The Queen Mother of the tiger dynasty is now in her sunset days. It may be a painful fact to accept but Machli, the tigress that reigned supreme in the woods of Ranthambhore for over a decade and produced numerous litter, is now a toothless tigress.
Not that Machli, now 17 years old, has lost all her grace. The animal, though without most of her canines, still remains a magnificent creature, with her attractive fur and elegant looks intact. Age has not withered her. Perhaps only when she moves, does the infirmity show.
Machli is a celebrated tigress — she was the subject of “Tiger Queen” a 50- minute film by ace cameraman Nalla Muthu which was shown in National Geography and Animal Planet channels a few years back. Continuing with the tiger dynasty trail, Nalla Muthu followed Machli's daughter Bhagani (T-18) to the Sariska Tiger Reserve where she was shifted to from the Ranthambhore National Park in July 2008 as part of a project to revive the extinct tiger population there. Nalla Muthu's encounters with Bhagani have led to the making of the impressive wildlife film, Tiger Dynasty.
Tiger Queen presented Machli as the “most dominant carnivore of Ranthambhore” during her heyday. As Machli had displaced her mother to be the reigning queen of the woods, her daughter, a doughty female with the code name T-17, did the same to Machli too some years back. Now every animal in the forest is seemingly doing the same to a toothless Machli.
Rajasthan Minister for Environment and Forests Bina Kak, who was in the Ranthambhore National Park recently, watched her, talked to her (that is what the Minister told The Hindu!!!) and clicked her pictures. That surely gave her some insights into the lives of tigers in the wild when they are aged.
“All her canines are gone. She has difficulty in chewing. Now she survives on the baits [domestic animals tied to a tree or post] provided on a regular basis by the staff of the Forest Department,” Ms. Kak told The Hindu on her return.
“At times, even the bait kept for her is snatched away by other tigers — like T-24 and T-25. Machli is old. She needs protection now,” Ms. Kak, observed. This may be defying the law of the jungle in which only the fittest survive.
“A dedicated team is looking after her in Ranthambhore. There is a viewpoint in conservation circles that the animal should be allowed to die a natural death. But with Machli, with a tigress they all knew so intimately, they say, they cannot do that,” Ms. Kak said.
Yet, in her difficult days also, Machli's survival instincts are helping her.
“She is a clever female. Once she kills the calf that is tied as bait, she immediately drags it across a stream and hides it on the other side of the bank. This way the other animals would not follow the scent and snatch the prey from her,” Ms. Kak explained.
“I saw it at least three times. I am sure she is doing it purposely to evade the rest of the predators and scavengers,” Ms. Kak asserted.