The mysterious disappearance of tigress F03

The Royal Bengal tigress strayed out of Orang National Park 16 months ago.

The Royal Bengal tigress strayed out of Orang National Park 16 months ago.  

Despite a 16 month operation to trap her, the tigress from Assam has vanished

A Royal Bengal tigress, F03, that strayed out of north-central Assam’s Orang National Park 16 months ago, had set off one of the biggest operations in the State to trap the big cat. For more than a year, the tigress outsmarted some of the country’s best feline experts and made the Assam Forest Department spend a fortune in the effort.

But she has virtually fallen off the radar since killing a pig in Darrang district’s Borgora Tea Estate on December 4 last year.

Her last kill was about 3 km south-west of Borobazar’s Simlagui in the adjoining Udalguri district where she had preyed on a cow to trigger a “wild cat chase”.

The 78.81 sq km Orang, about 110 km north-east of Guwahati, is a tiger reserve as well as a prime one-horned rhino habitat.

“F03’s last few kills – all pigs – were in that direction, indicating she might have returned to Orang from where she had strayed out of. The park is another 3 km beyond the tea estate and across the river Dhansiri,” Madhurjya K. Sarma, Udalguri’s Divisional Forest Officer told The Hindu on Sunday.

Too old for cattle?

F03’s first kill outside Orang was on November 11, 2017. Her strike did not cause a flutter in the area dominated by the Bodo community. Officials attributed this to an age-old belief that the big cats are occasional guests nature sends for satisfying hunger.

A year later, around the same time Avni the tigress was gunned down in Maharashtra and angry villagers crushed an alleged man-eater under a tractor in Uttar Pradesh, F03 failed to kill a cow in a village between Borobazar and the tea estate.

“We found the tigress could not plant her teeth on the cow and only managed to scratch her. That could have made her feel she was too old for cattle as she began preying on pigs, invariably those that were tied up,” Mr Sarma said.

A wild tiger’s life span is an average of 20 years.

“All we can say is that there is no sign of the tigress. It may have re-entered Orang or gone elsewhere; it is difficult to be sure,” Divisional Forest Officer of Mangaldoi Division Ramesh K. Gogoi said.

Forest officials do not rule out the possibility of the tigress having crossed the Brahmaputra on the southern edge of Orang and taken refuge in Kaziranga National Park on the other banks. During winter, when water levels in the Brahmaputra fall, tigers, rhinos, elephants, and deer too use the sandbars to move between the wildlife preserves.

Equipment returned

The operation to catch F03 involved an assembly line of wildlife officials, veterinarians, experts and activists from across the country. The cost of the operation has not been counted.

Officials of the Udalguri Division have returned tranquillising drugs to national parks and global wildlife agencies besides other equipment and elephants requisitioned from national parks.

“We returned customised animal lifting belts to Kaziranga and three elephants used in the operation to Orang. Three cages that were placed strategically for its capture are at the office of the local students’ union,” Mr. Sarma said.

One of these cages was brought from Orang and one acquired from a legendary local hunter, Ziaur Rahman of Mazbat nearby.

“From live goats to tree-top surveillance, we tried everything to catch F03. But she was always a step ahead of us. Maybe, she was destined not be caught except in camera-traps,” the forest officer said.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 8:13:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/the-mysterious-disappearance-of-tigress-f03/article26489114.ece

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