Strange are the ways of nature. At a time when Sariska Tiger Reserve is trying its best to shed away the memories of the controversy, that witnessed the elimination of the entire tiger population belonging to the Tiger Reserve, with the birth of two cubs in April, this year, Rajasthan’s coveted Ranthambore National Park is mourning the death of two of sub-adult tigers.
The two 13-months-old male tiger cubs were found dead near Anwad Di Khard area of the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. The unexpected death made the forest officials come up with various theories, like an adult male tiger T-42 killing the two tiger cubs, which are believed to be the litters of T-79, a territorial fight.
“In a news report, one of the forest officials indicated that the Cubs had injury marks. However, the same person later indicated that the injuries were not fatal enough to have caused the death. This comment in a way had doubled up the mystery surrounding the death of the tiger cubs. As we all know that the Tigers are an endangered species and we are trying our best to counter poaching of tigers and of course increase their population. Hence, the news of this mysterious death of tiger cubs, in India’s most coveted tiger reserve, definitely needs to be investigated, so that a repeat of Sariska doesn’t happen,” noted Colonel Ajay Ahlawat.
The forest department understanding the gravity of the situation swiftly sent off the viscera samples to not one, but two forensic laboratories – Wildlife Institute of India and Hyderabad’s Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.
Interestingly, the carcasses of these cubs were found at a distance of about 10 to 15 kilometres. Most animal activists and tiger enthusiasts have negated the theory put forward by the forest officials. “Bina Kak had rightly pointed out that two male sub-adults couldn’t have been killed by a male tiger. Where are the injury marks? Also, this theory raises questions like, if one cub was being killed then why didn’t the second cub run to a safe refuge?” questions Colonel Ajay Ahlawat.
Going by the procedure as prescribed by the ministry of environments and forests, those investigating this case, need to record the footprints of animals treading within a radius of 500 metres that encircle the scene of a crime. The footprints need to be identified using plaster of Paris.
However, the other possibility, which has come to light immediately after the post-mortem reports were made public raises some serious concern. “The fact that some bovine skin and residue was found in the stomach of these tiger cubs, indicate that they could have died because of food poisoning. Also, the forest cameras have recorded a bull falling unconscious and dying just a few hundred metres away from the spot where the carcasses of these tiger cubs were discovered, narrates a different tale,” pointed out Col Ajay Ahlawat.
He then went on to add, “Many believe that the fields along which the bull had grazed upon, had some poisonous (read pesticides) chemicals sprayed on them, which possibly lead to the bull’s death. And perhaps the Cubs feasted on the dead bull and died of food poisoning. This possibility opens up another issue – how safe are the greens that the forest animals munch on.”
Forest officials have confirmed that a sample of the greens has also been dispatched for testing. Interestingly, this is not the first time that tigers have died of poisoning. In the year 2010, two cubs of the Taleda Forest area of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve had been poisoned. Investigations had later revealed that some officials from the forest department were involved in the case.
Keeping into account that poaching is a reality and in many cases, forest officials are involved in poaching, more stringent rules and punishments need to be in place to contain this ever-growing plague. Rajasthan has already been shamed at the national level when all the tigers from its Sariska Tiger Reserve went missing. Guess, the state government needs to get cracking on this case so that they are not left embarrassed later with a repeat of what happened years back in Sariska.