The mysterious case of ‘missing’ tigers of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve

Updated on Nov 17, 2021 04:20 PM IST

Officials said six of the 12 tigers went missing between January 2020 and March 2021 from the Kundera and Talada ranges of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve

An official said the ranges are among the three major migratory routes for the big cats, indicating the tigers may have left the reserve and are untraceable. (ANI Photo/File/Representative use)
An official said the ranges are among the three major migratory routes for the big cats, indicating the tigers may have left the reserve and are untraceable. (ANI Photo/File/Representative use)

Half of the 12 missing tigers from Rajasthan’s Ranthambore Tiger Reserve over the last year disappeared from one place amid a growing trend of vanishing big cats, forest department officials have said and blamed congestion at one of India’s most crowded reserves for it. Territorial fights lead to the exit of the weaker ones from a habitat when the density of tigers increases, they added.

According to the forest department, the number of tigers at Ranthambore increased from 18 in 2006 to 74 in 2020. They included 20 tigers, 30 tigresses, and 24 subadults and cubs. There were four tigers each in the reserve’s Keladevi and Dholpur ranges.

Officials said six of the 12 tigers went missing between January 2020 and March 2021 from the Kundera and Talada ranges, spread around 125 sq km area.

An official said the ranges are among the three major migratory routes for the big cats, indicating the tigers may have left the reserve and are untraceable. He added these routes lead to Karauli and Bundi in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno Palpur. The forest department has not found any traces of the missing tigers either in Karauli or Bundi.

The official said the tiger population was increasing in the reserve and over two dozen cubs were born there last year. “When the density of tigers increases, territorial fights are obviously leading to the exit of the weaker ones.”

Divisional forest officer (Kuno Palpur) PK Verma said they were unable to find any traces either. “We have not found any pug marks and or sign of movement of tigers in the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary and nearby areas over the last 8-10 months,” he said.

Also Read: Two radio-collared tigers found dead in Madhya Pradesh’s Panna Tiger Reserve

Kuno is expected to get up to six Cheetahs from Namibia early next year and surveillance of wildlife has been increased in preparation for the relocation.

Ranthambore Tiger Reserve director Tikam Chandra Verma said there was no territory left for tigers inside the park and therefore they have migrated. “We are working with the state government on dealing with the congestion issue.”

Rajasthan has sought the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s approval for a reserve at Kumbhalgarh Sanctuary, which is connected with Ranthambore, to ease the pressure on one of the oldest reserves in the state. About 100 tigers live in two other tiger reserves in the state--Sariska and Mukundra Hills.

Chief minister Ashok Gehlot in August constituted an expert panel to prepare an action plan for tiger conservation in the state and to de-congest Ranthambore.

Verma said the panel was examining the issue and has submitted its suggestions.

Conservation biologist Dharmendra Khandal said a majority of tigers going missing from a specific area indicates something abnormal. “Infighting for territory cannot happen at only one place in the reserve.” He added the number of tigers going missing has been the highest in 18 years. “Earlier, annually two to three tigers went missing unnoticed. Now it has more than doubled...”

Khandal said the missing big cats include six tigers, three tigresses, and three cubs. He added poaching cannot be ruled out and that there has been an increase in cases of electrocutions as a result of unethical crop protection methods. “Wire snaring has also been a problem. In December 2020, male tiger T-108 was rescued from a wire snare...after timely intelligence...”

In March, the Ranthambore administration started a search for at least four missing tigers, who were not sighted for a year.

According to the forest department, at least 26 tigers have gone missing over the last decade and remain untraced.

An Indian Forest Service officer, who has worked in Ranthambore, said a tiger can go missing because of territorial fights or migration. “...if (they go missing) from a specific area, there could be a possible exit.” He added illegal mining and cutting of trees are reported from the area between Kundera and Talada ranges.

The officer ruled out poaching saying that no such major incident was reported from anywhere in the country.

“Finding a tiger’s body in a forest is difficult. If they die near a village, we are able to get the body. More so, if they are not radio-collared. The cubs till they are a year old are not counted as in the wild as their survival is difficult till they turn adults,” the officer said. He added none of the missing tigers were radio-collared.

Sunayan Sharma, a retired Indian Forest Service officer, said the Kundera and Talada ranges are on the fringes of the reserve, where the animals are vulnerable to conflict with humans. “In the fringe areas, the tigers arrive after being under pressure from a stronger tiger to move out. There the prey population is also less and they have an interface with humans as they go out looking for prey and many times, it ends in a dangerous conflict.”

He said the number of missing tigers can reduce if the forest department is able to reduce congestion. “Tigers need new habitat.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sachin Saini is Special Correspondent for Rajasthan. He covers politics, tourism, forest, home, panchayati raj and rural development, and development journalism.

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