Numbers worry conservationists

Numbers worry conservationists

A tiger on the prowl in Ranthambore.

The news is music to wildlife activists and the authorities concerned alike. It is a boom time in Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. The number of big cats is growing and birth of more tiger cubs are reported from this wildlife sanctuary in Sawai Madhopur district in the southeastern region of the state. And, this comes after a barren year.

The park authorities have confirmed the birth of two cubs after they were spotted by visitors. The official count of cubs in the tiger reserve has touched 16 since September last.  The mother of the cubs was born to a Kachidah female, who died in February last year, leaving behind the two cubs.

 The Ranthambore tigers are identified with the code letter T (means tiger) followed by their unique number, while the Sariska tigers carry the code S-T (Sariska-Tiger) followed by their number based on their unique features. However, pet names like Matchchli, Sundari have also been given and some are known by the area they occupy like the Kachidah female.

Park staff has recently spotted one tigress, which has been given the number T-19 by the census authorities, with a swollen mammary gland suggesting suckling cubs. Tigresses do not venture out with their cubs in the open till they are about three to four months old.

State tourism minister Bina Kak, who is also a wildlife enthusiast, on a recent visit to the park had spotted the same tigress with swollen mammary glands.  She said “we were out on a tour and we spotted the tigress. Her mammary glands were swollen though her stomach was not. “It is quite an indication that the tigress must have given birth to cubs recently and is lactating,” said Kak. However, the park authorities said the birth could be confirmed only after sighting the tigress with the cubs.

“It is only after we take photos of the cubs along with their mother that can we give any confirmation of birth. At present we cannot say anything about T-19,” said park officials. This is true in the case of T-8.  It was only after we took a picture of the tigress with her cubs that were we able to confirm the birth,” the officials said.

R P Gupta, DFO, Ranthambore, said with the addition of two cubs of T-8, the number of cubs since September last in the park now stands at 16.  “Among the tigresses who have given birth so far are T-5 which eventually died, leaving behind the two newborns, tigresses T-13, T-31, T-8 with two cubs each and tigresses T-11 and T-26 with three cubs each," said Gupta.

The growth of tiger population in Ranthambore is also causing some concerns. As the cubs grow up, they need more space. There can be territorial fights among them and they also tend to stray outside the sanctuary. Ranthambore is already bursting at its seams with at least 31 tigers reported in the last census conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).

The Ranthambore National Park has been facing a problem of plenty for some time now. Though the total area of Ranthambore tiger reserve is about 1,394.478 sq kms, the 31 tigers are confined to an area of less than 400 sq. kms of the core area. The rapid multiplication of tigers in the reserve has been posing a bigger problem for forest authorities as well.

Recently, two tigers had strayed as far as Mathura in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh while another managed to get away to Madhya Pradesh and finally to the Kuno-Palpur area. At least two tigers – T-2 and T-40 - have not been sighted since October.

Usually, tigers straying from the park also face threats from poachers or being killed in revenge by villagers staying along the periphery of the park as the big cats feed on their livestock.

“The semi-adults find it difficult to chalk out their territory and stray from the sanctuary. Sometimes, tigers fight among themselves over territory, often resulting in the death of one. The answer may lie in developing other areas of the park like the Sawai Man Singh Sanctuary to house the rising number of tigers,” said Rajpal Singh, a member of the state wildlife committee.

Tigers are fiercely protective of their territories. A tigress may have a territory of 20 sq kms, while the male may cover 40-80 sq kms or even more.

Forest officials are also trying to make more room for tigers by relocating villages in along the periphery. “Last year we relocated one village from Ranthambore. This year too we are relocating about 10 villages from the forest to make room for more tigers,” officials said.

One of the solutions could be the proposed corridor between Ranthambore and the Mukundra Hills. The state government has also planned to make other sanctuaries around more habitable for wild animals. In his recent budget, state Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has proposed to develop the area connecting Ranthambore with the Mukundra Hills sanctuary as an exclusive corridor for tiger movement. The area is frequently used by straying tigers from Ranthambore and developing it would give the big cats a safer passage.