BHUBANESWAR: India’s first ever inter-state tiger relocation project stands at crossroads. Three days after being tranquillised inside the forests, Bandhavgarh tigress Sundari finds itself confined to the enclosure where it was held for about 50 days after being translocated from Madhya Pradesh in June.
Its freedom curtailed, the young tigress’ fate depends on the wisdom of the wise men of Forest and Environment Department, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India.
Even as the seething villagers living inside and on the fringes of Satkosia Tiger Reserve heave a sigh of relief - the big cat had killed two persons who had ventured into the jungle in September and October - none of the decision making agencies has a clue as per what hat to do with Sundari.
If sources are to be believed, the apex tiger conservation authority has sought a factual report from Odisha Government while the Forest Department has sought its assistance in return.
As of now, the tiger conservation plan has hit a dead end. Once a wild tiger - released into the forest after a soft release - is tranquillised and held captive, conservation becomes the first casualty. At Satkosia, it already has.
It is clear where the State failed. The Department, despite its appreciable measures to create a solid ground for re-introduction of tiger at Satkosia, could not win confidence of local community. That should have been the first hurdle to be negotiated. But there was politics, entitlement issues of villagers living close to the core and fear all of which could not be addressed even as Sundari surveyed the new habitat and ran into human beings. After two killings that followed law and order crisis, the complexities have only piled up.
“We will write to the NTCA and WII again and ask their experts to come here and advise. We have hourly data of the tigress’s movement and its behaviour can be studied before a decision is taken,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden Dr Sandeep Tripathi says.
Can the tigress be released back into Satkosia again? At this point of time, the ground situation is too complicated to allow such a move. “It takes a wild tiger three months to settle down in a new habitat. Sundari should have settled by now. There is nothing wrong with its behaviour. It is natural for her to survey her new territory,” said a senior officer of the Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change.
There is a feeling that the Forest Department was under too much pressure to tranquillise and capture the young tigress and it wilted. Continuous monitoring and driving could have kept her confined to areas which do not come in conflict zones. But Satkosia is dotted by human settlements which did not work in favour of the forest staff.
It can not be sent to another habitat. Re-introduction requires strong ground work such as a feasibility study including prey density, habitat assessment and human pressure. In absence of a study, it can be released into another habitat.
A wild tiger cannot be and must not be sent to a zoo. Existing norms are very strict about it and the Central Zoo Authority has already shot off a letter to the Forest Department barring such a move.
On November 12, NTCA is reportedly holding a meeting to take stock of the situation which is new for it. Till then, Sundari - caught in conflict of humans - can only be in her holding area - an enclosure that resembles the wild. Yet, wild it is not.