Tigress Avni’s cub to be released in the wild after a year of foster care
The female cub (T1C2) of tigress Avni, shot dead last year by a hunter who did not have the permission to shoot the big cat blamed for killing 13 people in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal, will be released in the wild in November.
The cub will be mature enough by then to take care of herself, state forest department and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) officials said.
Officials said tiger cubs generally stay with their mothers at least till they are 18 months old and then disperse into the wild in search of new territory. T1C2 was rescued a month after Avni was killed in November 2018 and kept in the Pench Tiger Reserve.
She will be two-year-old by the time of her release in the wild. T1C2 has been under constant closed-circuit television surveillance over an area spread across 4.5-hectares at Pench.
“The ultimate aim has always been to release T1C2 in the wild,” said Maharashtra’s principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) Nitin Kakodkar. He added the decision to release the cub was taken after she began hunting and managed to fend for herself without help. “By November, T1C2 will be two-year-old, and age-wise, fit for release. We will be monitoring her dispersal and the territory post release,” said Kakodkar.
The location where she will be released is yet to be decided.
NTCA member secretary Anup Nayak said the female cub has been responding very well. “Our officers, scientists, and experts have confirmed this. Instructions have been issued to the Maharashtra forest department to release her in a suitable habitat soon.”
The forest department launched a massive hunt to capture Avni’s male and female cubs after the tigress was killed as they were too young to fend for themselves in the wild. Officials feared they could fall prey to infighting or start preying on people.
The department installed 111 camera traps, 54 pug impression pads and deployed 10 teams across a 160 sq km area in Yavatmal’s Pandharkawada to look for the cubs. The female cub was rescued on December 22 last year with the help of the Madhya Pradesh forest department. But the male cub (T1C1) is yet to be rescued.
T1C1 jumped over a 10-foot high chain-link fence at one of the forest divisions in January and has not been seen since.
Officials plan to intensify efforts to rescue Avni’s male cub. “Efforts have never stopped to trap the male cub. But because of monsoon, terrain and the vegetation, the rescue process became difficult. However, post-monsoon the male cub will also be two-years-old. So we will need to take a final call then,” said Kakodkar.
Officials said they have sought the Wildlife Institute of India (Dehradun) and Madhya Pradesh forest department’s assistance in capturing the male cub. “We were told it was difficult [to located the male cub] in the rainy season. We have to intervene again and a team will visit Pandharkawada forest to review the matter,” said Nayak.
Wildlife Protection Society of India director (central India) Nitin Desai welcomed the decision to release the female cub. “There is no harm in this release but the forest department needs to monitor her movement meticulously to check whether she moves closer to human habitation so as to avoid any untoward incidents,” he said.
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