A tigress that was captured on Monday amid high drama after it strayed into a village near the Sundarbans jumped from a boat into the river, turned back with a growl at her captors, swam ashore and then melted into the thick mangrove forest Tuesday morning.
Capping a two-day drama over the ham-handed capture of the pregnant tigress from a village in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, the inmate of the forest was finally returned to her habitat after she was treated for her injuries caused by villagers.
West Bengal principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) Atanu Raha said the tigress was successfully caught and sent back to the forest.
"The tigress has been safely returned to the forest and she is doing fine," another forest official said.
The state's Sundarban Affairs Minister Kanti Ganguly oversaw the operation.
As soon as the gate of her cage was opened, the tigress jumped into the river like it was pouncing on some nimble-footed prey and then turned back with a small growl at the forest officials aboard the launch - Banani - and then swam to the bank, to disappear in the Azmalmari forest of Sundarbans.
On Monday, after nearly 18 hours of effort, the tigress was tranquillised while she was perched atop a palm tree and then captured by the forest officials from Deulbari village near Kultali, about 250 km from Kolkata.
"The tigress was under observation and experts examined her health. She came out of the forest late Sunday night in search of a safe place as she is pregnant," Ganguly said.
Vet Rabindra Nath Shikari, who examined the tigress Monday night, said: "The villagers had tried to scare it by lighting a fire under the tree, which caused burns. Otherwise, the injuries aren't serious."
Four villagers of Deulbari received injuries when they helped forest officials catch the animal. One of them was taken to hospital.
The forest officials and police reached the spot and shot the tigress with tranquilliser guns Monday morning. The officials also cordoned off the area with nets.
Finally, the tigress was captured when she fell asleep.
TV channel footage showed villagers beating the pregnant tigress with sticks and throwing stones at her while catching her in the net.
"The catching technique may vary depending upon the situation. The forest officials took the right steps in capturing the animal," Raha said.
Sundarbans, which comprises about 10,000 sq km of marshlands and mangrove forests along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, is one of the last natural habitats of the tiger.
While the latest census did not cover the Sundarbans, forest officials said there were 249 tigers in the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and 279 in greater Sundarbans.
But the number, based on pugmarks of individual tigers, was contested by an analysis of the same pugmarks by the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI).
ISI experts said in July 2006 there were only 75 tigers left in the Sundarbans after the analysis with the help of new software. The forest department was quick to rubbish the figure and the software.
According to the latest tiger census released by the government last week, the total number of tigers across the country stands at 1,411, a dramatic fall from 3,642 in the 2001-02 census.