BENGALURU: MACHLI (19), the oldest big cat ever known to have walked the wilderness, died at the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan on Thursday. She would have turned 20 this month end.
Wildlife enthusiasts poured out their hearts on the social media ; cartoonists brought her alive through their works as a tribute. However, her death has sparked a debate over the future of tiger conservation in India -- the country which has the highest number of wild tigers in the world.
India has 2,226 tigers in the wild (2014 India Tiger Census) and Karnataka is home to 406 of them. Of this, only a few of them are spotted roaming around in the tourism zones of tiger reserves. Machli is one such tigress.
Machli earned global recognition after she killed a 14-foot long crocodile. But, during the heroic fight, she lost a few of her canines. It is said that since then, she was fed by the Forest Department officials and resort owners as they were not ready to lose the mascot of tiger tourism in Rajasthan.
Usually, the average life span of tigers is 12-15 years in the wild. Artificial feeding, backed by tourism interests, kept Machli alive for these many years, wildlife experts claim.
On a positive note, a majority of tigers in Ranthambore are offsprings of Machli. The Sariska National Park, which once had no tigers, is now breeding Machli’s offsprings.
“Every year, a large number of foreign tourists visit Ranthambore National Park and the annual business here is close to `1 crore. Sighting of big cats is an important part of wildlife tourism and Machli came as a blessing for the forest department. She was accustomed to vehicles and glares of tourists coming day in and out,” said Vallish Vasuki, a researcher working at Ranathambore.
The tiger reserves in South India have remained wildlife-friendly in terms of interference with the nature.
Last week, the Karnataka Forest Department refused to rescue three dying cubs in Nagarahole, following directions from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
Naming the tigers
The wild tigers are often named by the occupants of Tourism Zones (a small part of tiger reserve) after being repeatedly sighted. Many a times, resort owners and photographers name the tigers and popularise them on the social networking sites. Though the process of naming tigers has attracted wrath of wildlife experts, many have continued to name them.
Chief Conservator of Forests (Kodagu), Vijay Mohan Raj said, naming tigers will not harm the conservation interests.
“The tourism zones constitute less than 5 per cent of total tiger areas in India. The tigers from these areas are famous for attracting tourists. The tigers in the rest of the areas die a painful death and no one notices. Recently, Bannerghatta Park in Bengaluru recorded the death of the oldest ever living tiger in captivity. The tigress was close to 25 years when she died in June 2016,” said Daniel Sukumar, a naturalist from Bengaluru.