Captive tigress to live free in Pench forest

Nagpur: Setting aside scientific concerns, the nine-member committee headed by principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) for wildlife finally decided to release the hand-reared captive tigress in Pench tiger reserve.

In a meeting on April 20, the committee had mulled the release of six-year-old tigress in Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Amravati. To discuss the matter with Melghat field director DK Tyagi, a meeting of the committee was called by PCCF (wildlife) Sarjan Bhagat on Thursday. Tyagi had certain reservations and stated that the problems for which Pench was not being considered were there in Melghat also. "Though there is prey base, Melghat is big. Looking into the undulating terrain, it would be difficult to monitor the tigress. Low tiger density in the park doesn't mean area is not occupied by tigers," said Tyagi.

While members of NGO Srushti Sanjay Deshpande and others strongly pushed for release of the tigress in Pench itself, field director MS Reddy was firm on his views already expressed in writing that the wild cat should not be released in Pench owing to already good density of tigers there and other challenges. Sources said there was even face-off between Srushti's Sanjay Deshpande and Pench field director MS Reddy on the issue. When Reddy suggested any one person speak on behalf of Srushti, Deshpande objected and told Reddy this would be decided by the PCCF as the meeting had been called by him.

Deshpande denied any face-off but said there could always be difference of opinion. "The good work done by Reddy in Pench cannot be ignored," he added.

Amid debate and discussion, the matter was left to Bhagat who decided to release the tigress in Pench. "After one more round of talks, we will come out with a schedule to release the tigress in a week. The task of monitoring the tigress will always be there but in case it causes any problem we will capture it again," Bhagat said.

Three five-month-old cubs— two females Sukhwasi and Ganeshpipri and a male Bhangaram Talodi — were rescued from Dhaba forest in Chandrapur in September 2009 after their mother went missing and was possibly poached.

These cubs were hand-reared in a small cage at Bor for three years and spent another two years in a bigger enclosure in Pench. There are many human imprints on these tigers and hence two of these tigers have been declared unfit for release in the wild by an expert committee of NTCA. The male has already been sent to a zoo. Leading wildlife experts have cautioned against the release of hand-reared cubs. "Such decisions cannot be taken on emotions," said wildlife conservationist Shekhar Dattatri.

A section of wildlife biologists said the cubs learnt a lot from their mother on hunting and survival. How well they manage in forest depends on their experience. They cautioned that releasing tigers that had grown in captivity back in the wild is full of dangers as they do not know how to find and kill natural prey on their own. They can easily turn to cattle or even human beings.

There are very few circumstances when reintroduction of tigers from captivity is warranted at all. "Wherever, prey occur, wild tigers already occur at appropriate matching densities, so the need for introducing them does not exist," an expert said.