Illustration: Martina Bulkova / pixabay
- An aging and injured tiger, now named T23, has killed four people and several cattle around the Mudumalai sanctuary in recent weeks.
- Harassed forestry officials desperately patrol the area where the tiger was last seen, in an attempt to put it to sleep with a tranquilizer.
- The decision to tranquilize, capture and relocate this tiger was not taken lightly, but urban wildlife will pontificate on the cruelty of doing so.
A tiger is a magnificent being. There are no two ways to do it. Living on the edge of Mudumalai Shrine, I heard its incomparable and unforgettable ferocious sound, filling the valley with its reverberating roar, making animals and humans tremble. It’s a strange feeling because while the roar of the tiger fills you with excitement and wonder, it also makes you shiver.
I’m sorry because despite having lived here for 38 years, I remain one of the unlucky few who have never seen a tiger in the wild.
Over the past week, locals, usually rather proud of their personal connection to the visiting elephants and leopards, were enraged. This is unusual, but perfectly understandable. An aging and injured tiger, now named T23, has killed four people and several cattle in recent weeks.
Harassed forestry officials desperately patrol the area where the tiger was last seen, in an attempt to put it to sleep with a tranquilizer. This operation is not easy. The animals are tranquilized by a stun gun that shoots a dart into the creature, not a bullet. The shooter should get close enough to the animal for a reasonably fair shot. Again, easier said than done. A tiger’s thick fur coat is not easily penetrated. And Tamil Nadu’s forestry department does not have a sufficient budget for the complex wildlife operations it often has to carry out.
Their counterparts in Kerala, on the other hand, have better equipment, better training and better protective gear to deal with dangerous and delicate situations. Apparently, they regularly and inconspicuously catch predators.
With three dead cows, the predatory tiger will not be allowed to roam free. He will be taken into the deep forest, far from populated areas, and released there.
Since the sanctuaries in general, and the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in particular, are surrounded by human settlements, it is inevitable that serious clashes will occur. Cows are taken away, as are livestock of all kinds, including sheep, goats, chickens and guinea fowl. We personally had our beautiful and dear Alsatian taken away by a marauding leopard. I have hated this leopard with a passion for years.
Now, I wouldn’t think of comparing the value of a goat or even a cow to that of a tiger or a leopard. But for a sharecropper whose livelihood depends on this one crop or cow, it’s a tragedy. He may have pledged his wife’s meager wedding jewelry to support his family. A poor farmer can be financially devastated by the loss of a cow. Anger is therefore often palpable.
In the mid-1980s, I heard of an elephant killed by poachers near our home. Everyone made the compulsory pilgrimage there. Naturally, I wanted to write a story about it. My husband told me about it. I was pregnant with our second child, now a conservation enthusiast.
“It’s such a vile, horrible and mind-numbing scene,” he said. “You would definitely gag violently at the sight, maybe even lose the baby.” “
The poachers had shot the elephant, then used huge knives to rip off the tusks, tearing the poor animal’s trunk and face to pieces. A bloody, nightmarish and diabolical spectacle. The hapless elephant had over 30 old gunshot wounds from people, poachers and farmers, who shot him. So it was an angry, hurt and suffering animal.
Over the next 35 years, poaching has thankfully been drastically reduced. But better training and better equipment is a must for all anti-poaching teams, guards and observers who tirelessly patrol the area, with minimal protective gear, putting their lives at risk.
Urban wheelchair wildlife enthusiasts tend to be judgmental. No doubt it seems tragic to kill a tiger, however old, injured, sick and dangerous it may be. But after weeks of hunting him down in an attempt to calm and treat him, the decision was made. This was not done lightly. The current District Forester, Chief Wildlife Custodian and Field Manager are responsible officers (not always the case) who care about both animals and people.
The three men and a woman killed by the tiger were poor people herding their cattle. But few people worry about them. They were fathers, brothers and husbands. The woman was wife, mother, sister. Their families depended on them. Naturally, the inhabitants of Gudalur and Masinagudi are outraged, livid and protest. They want the tiger killed before it takes a fifth victim.
The field director and his team have been trying for more than a week to tranquilize and capture the animal. The chances of an injured old tiger surviving in the wild are slim. Young male tigers regularly kill their older rivals. They mark their territory and guard it fiercely. Yet urban wildlife will pontificate over the cruelty of shooting this tiger. The field director will be judged regardless of the decision, if the tiger is shot.
The days of T23 are numbered because that is the nature of tigers. A younger male jealously guards his territory. He will not tolerate a rival, no matter how old and weak.
Senior forestry officers are still desperately trying to capture and move the T23. Everyone hopes to be successful. There is an aura around this absolutely magnificent beast, which makes it unacceptable, unbearable, no matter what. But when a tiger begins to eat its human prey, which happened with the last victim, it must be stopped. Efficiently and quickly.
Like most of the others here, we will be sad to learn of the death of the tiger if it is not captured alive. But life must go on. For the best or for the worst.
Mari Marcel Thekaekara is a freelance writer who has focused on social issues in magazines and newspapers.