The iconic tiger Jai — that has been missing from the Umred-Karhandla wildlife sanctuary near Nagpur since April 18 — may have fallen prey to poachers.
The popular big cat has been credited with boosting tourism and helping increase the population of tigers in the region.
The forest department detained two suspected poachers from Kodurli village near Paoni range of Umred forest on Tuesday.
The village from where they were nabbed is close to the spot where Jai was last sighted.
According to sources, the special investigation team (SIT) of the forest department took two suspects, Kisan Samarth (67) and Madhukar Hatwar (39), into custody on Tuesday evening.
The special investigation team has seized wire snares, which are used to trap and kill wild animals, from them.
As the news of their detention spread, social media was abuzz with claims that Jai’s poachers had been nabbed. Principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Shree Bhagwan, said the department is yet to ascertain if the duo had been involved in poaching big cats.
Seven-year-old Jai, named after actor Amitabh Bachchan’s character in the hit 1975 Hindi movie, Sholay, entered the Umred-Karhandla sanctuary by migrating nearly 150km from the Nagzira-Navegaon tiger reserve in Gondia-Bhandara district in September 2013, crossing several villages and even the Mumbai-Kolkata national highway in successful pursuit of a mate. Jai is the undisputed king of the Umred sanctuary, having mated with virtually all the tigress there and successfully fathered more than 20 cubs.
The big cat was radio collared by wildlife expert Bilal Habib last year, but the link failed within a few months.