Rewilding experiment fails in MP, orphaned tigers relocated to zoo
India recorded a 33% increase in tiger numbers in the span of four years between 2014 and 2018, according to the All India Tiger Estimation Results released last year.
An experiment to put two orphaned tiger cubs back in the wild by the forest department in Madhya Pradesh for the past two years has failed after which they were shifted to a zoological park in the capital city of Bhopal, officials said.
According to the forest department officials, the tiger cubs were abandoned by their mother in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve when they were one and a half months old in 2017. They were found by the reserve management near a prey.
The mother didn’t return for two days while the management kept a watch on them. The cubs were found to be weak and prone to be killed by other wild animals, they said.
The reserve management protected them and started a ‘rewilding experiment’ to develop instinct in them to kill in the wild, before taking a decision on releasing them in the jungles, officials said.
These cubs were put in an enclosure to protect them from wild animals where they were provided milk through artificial means to help them survive.
This was followed by meat and chicken. Sambar and chital were provided as baits but they were not found efficient in hunting and killing the baits, the officials said.
The tigers were brought to Van Vihar National Park in Bhopal, more than 450 kilometres from Bandhavgarh National Park, by a team of Van Vihar officials headed by Dr Atul Gupta.
“A decision was taken by senior officers to shift the tiger and the tigress to Van Vihar as they were found not capable of hunting in a natural way and they were not found fit to be rehabilitated in a natural environment,” Dr Gupta said.
One of the tigers had to be tranquillised before being shifted.
“There were signs of fatigue in the tiger who was not tranquillised. We are keeping a watch on them,” he added.
The then director of Bandhavgarh National Park Mridul Pathak said he did not know why the experiment failed.
“We made our best efforts till I was there to rehabilitate them in their natural environment,” Pathak said.
Former conservator of forest, Jagdish Chandra, warned it should be a lesson for the forest department officials in their wildlife management. There should be a comprehensive study of the entire project to find out what went wrong so that such instances don’t recur, he said.
“I am yet to study the entire project. However, I don’t see any other reason for the experiment failing and the tigers not being able to learn the hunting behaviour than too much spoon-feeding to them,” Chandra said.
“Hunting and killing are a natural instinct of wild animals like tigers. If they are growing and not ailing then it’s difficult to understand what hampered the process of their developing their natural instinct if it was not too much human imprinting on them,” he said.
However, additional principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) JS Chauhan said the department followed procedures to give the cubs their natural environment.
“They were kept in opaque enclosures to minimise human imprint on them. Baits were placed for them to kill but they were unable to do so. Hence, we thought it would not be a wise decision to release such captive wild animals in jungles,” Chauhan said.
“There have been as many as nine experiments on rewilding out of which eight were successful. Hence, the department has enough expertise in the field,” he said.
India recorded a 33% increase in tiger numbers in the span of four years between 2014 and 2018, according to the All India Tiger Estimation Results released last year. The new estimation for 2018 indicates there are 2967 tigers in India compared to 2226 indicated in the 2014 estimation.
Madhya Pradesh has the highest number with 526 tigers, followed by 524 in Karnataka and 442 in Uttarakhand. Karnataka had the highest number in 2014 with 406 tigers compared to 308 in Madhya Pradesh.