Sariska tigers back to wild diet

Under constant watch, big cats explore village, state highway

22 July, 2008 Hindustan Times

In a welcome sign of settling down in their new home since the two big cats were released out of their enclosures two weeks back, the animals have finally hunted down their first wild preys in Sariska.
Monitoring teams have found remains of a Sambar and a fawn hunted by the tigress on last Friday. Though the field staff had no such luck with the kills made by the tiger, the fact that he did not take any goat bait for some days indicated that he also went for a hard-earned change of taste.
Since the two big cats were shifted to Sariska enclosures from Ranthambhore three weeks back, they were on a goat diet. Even after the tigers were let out of the enclosures, the forest authorities continued with live goat baits so that the animals don’t move too far in search of food. Many were worried that too long on goat diet might make the animals selectively target livestock in the surrounding villages and create man-animal conflict.
"Yes, it’s great news that the tigers have made wild kills. They continue to be in fine health and are settling down. They have not come face to face yet and their territories do not overlap," confirmed PS Somshekhar, Field Director, Sariska.
While both animals have apparently settled down in the Core One – easily the best forest stretch in Sariska – since their release outside the enclosures, they have given quite a few anxious moments to the monitoring teams of scientists from Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the local forest staff.
Last week, the tigress moved close to the edge of the forest near Naldeshwar before moving back on her own. Yesterday, she ventured till the state highway (SH-13) near Kushalgarh but, fortunately, did not cross over. Under close watch, she has not gone too far back inside the forest till this evening.
The tiger, on the other hand, threatened to walk out of the reserve through the Tehla gate a few days back. Then on Saturday night, the big male decided to explore Dabkon, a village of about 35 households at the edge of the forest near Tehla. But the monitoring teams took positions early and were ready when the tiger walked in at around 2 am on Sunday morning. As the villagers watched in huddles, the forest staff pushed the big cat back using traditional methods of bursting firecrackers and playing drums.
"It is natural that the big cats will walk in all directions as they are trying to explore the forest before curving out their territories. Anyway, Sariska is a linear stretch of forest and the edges are not too far apart. But constant monitoring is on efficient intervention methods are in place," said Dr Rajesh Gopal, chief of National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Since the two radio-collared big cats walked free, the tiger has covered an area of about 100 sq km. He has been spotted marking his territory around the place from where a forest village – Bagani – was recently moved out. The tigress, typically, showed less movement and has remained contained within 45-50 sq km. "She has been by far confined to the Sukhota block of the Akbarpura range," said Somshekhar.

Early freedom for Sariska tigress

7 July, 2008 Hindustan Times

Sariska's first couple is out in the open. But the big cats are yet to cross each other's path. While the female stayed put in her enclosure till evening after the sliding gate was opened early this morning, the male tiger traveled quite a distance on his second day of freedom.
While the tiger had to wait for eight days, the tigress got a chance to walk free on her fourth day in Sariska. She has to thank the tiger for her early freedom. It is the male's relaxed movement yesterday that gave the team of scientists from Wildlife Institute of India and forest staff the confidence to free the female so early.
But the tigress did not budge till this evening. The monitoring teams expect her to move away from the enclosure later tonight. From the signals picked up from her radio collar over the past three days, itis clear that the tigress gets active only after sundown.
Hunger is another factor that should drive her movements tonight as the tigress is yet to make any kill since she arrived at Sariska. The female was allowed to finish a kill at Ranthambhore – one good meal lasts a big cat at least three days -- before she was airlifted on July 4.
Meanwhile, the tiger started exploring the forest today and traveled about 10 km till Bramhanath in the Kalighati area. Though he has not yet threatened to stray, his movements are being closely monitored.

Sariska male walks free, stays put

Tigress doing fine in enclosure, to be out in 48 hours

6 July, 2008 Hindustan Times

MINUTES after his eighth sunrise in captivity, the male tiger from Ranthambhore walked out of his one-hectare enclosure this morning to discover his new 800 sq km kingdom of Sariska. Taking one of the three possible routes – all leading to the Kalighati area towards the centre of Sariska -- created by park officials through a funneling effect outside the enclosure gate, he moved on to make a goat kill.
Being monitored round-the-clock by three teams of scientists fromWildlife Institute of India (WII) and the forest staff, the radio-collared tiger still has the easy option to continue on a goatdiet for a few days more. Like this morning when three goat baits wereput on three possible tracks, officials will continue to offer thetiger live baits till he shows definite signs of settling down. Ofcourse, the big cat has the freedom to go for wild prey available inplenty.
The decision of continuing with live bait, according to sources,overruled an alternative strategy considered earlier last week. Theidea was to keep the tiger hungry for a couple of days before releaseso that he did not wait looking for livestock and rushed to make awild kill.
In fact, the tiger's freedom was delayed after he made a goat killinside the enclosure on Wednesday. Subsequently, the arrival of thetigress on Friday and heavy pilgrim traffic on Saturday prolonged hisstay inside the enclosure.
Today, a team of WII scientists swung into action around 2-15 in themorning. They prepared a pug impression pad with fine dust and set upa camera trap at the gate of the enclosure to record the tiger's exit.Then the team waited for the first light of the day before opening the sliding gates of the enclosure at 4-30 in the morning. The tiger soon came striding and stepped out around 5-30 am.
After consuming the goat he killed at 6-30 am, the tiger spent hisearly hours of freedom in a leisurely survey of an area of about 2 sqkm between the enclosure and Kalighati. Later in the day, he made afew short trips up and down the hillocks. Under an overcast sky and intermittent drizzle, he seemed to have taken it easy the first day.
Meanwhile, the tigress is in good health inside her enclosure andexpected to make her first kill tonight. She was allowed to finish akill at Ranthambhore – one good meal lasts a big cat about three days-- before she was picked up on July 4. If both animals continue toshow normal behaviour, the tigress will be set free by Tuesday.

Sariska's first couple has a past

Lakrdah female, T10 male paired days before airlift

5 July, 2008 Hindustan Times

Big cats come with baggage. Before their fate brought them together to a new home in Sariska, the young animals had formed a pair. Many inRanthambhore spotted the Lakrda female mating with a robust collared tiger not far from Malik Talao – the same picturesque water body that made her mother famous as the Lady of the Lake – days before she was moved to Sariska. While some mistook the tiger for the Kachida male –one of Ranthambhore's many collared tigers – the bulkier frame was a giveaway. The Lakrda female's partner was none other than the T10 male, say forest sources, the tiger that preceded her to Sariska on June 28.
Early days still, but Sariska's first tigress just might be carrying her first litter from her old home. If she shows signs of pregnancy now and goes on to deliver, Sariska might have second generation oftigers much earlier than expected.
Usually a tigress takes 90-110 days from conception to delivery andthe pregnancy becomes apparent by the sixth week. Other signs ofconception include consumption of grass for folic acid, shrinking habitat and search for safe hideouts. However, both animals being relatively young, the Lakrda female might not get lucky this time. Bigcats show high rate of conception when the partners involved are olderthan five years.
But if the Lakrda female was indeed with the Kachida male, herpossible conception may not be good news after all. For male catsdon't tolerate cubs of other males. This typical male reaction is triggered by the fact that post-conception, a tigress doesn't matetill her cubs grow up, making herself out of bound for about two years. Though a male tiger show patience with his own cubs, hisnatural tendency is to kill the young ones of other males so that thetigresses concerned are available again. Tigresses do try to defendtheir cubs against new males, but, typically, the young ones are safeonly when they grow up in their father's territory. Every time the father male loses his territory to a rival male, the cubs are killed.
In Sariska, there will be no stopping the only male now. And if the Lakrda female indeed goes on to deliver the Kachida male's cubs, the T10 male – so called after her number in the Ranthambhore tiger index– surely won't wait watching the only tigress around bringing up someother tiger's cubs.
But there is hope even in such a scenario. Tigresses of exceptional craftiness are known for fooling their male counterparts. The Lakrda female's mother, the venerable Lady of the Lake, tricked many tigersand other adversaries to successfully raise nine tigers in fourlitters. To protect her first litter in a similar situation, she had been reported to have faked a false estrus to fool a male tiger andsaved her cubs. If the daughter can show half the skills, she will anyway have the T10 believe he is responsible for her litter.

Sariska readies for some royal romance

Ranthambhore tigress reaches Sariska, first male set to walk free

4 July, 2008 Hindustan Times

With the safe release of a 170-kg, four-year-old Ranthambhore tigress– popularly known as the Lakrda female -- in the second enclosure at Naya Pani at the stroke of noon today, Sariska's first couple is now in place.
The tigress was sedated at 7 am this morning and waited till 11-15 when the chopper finally took off from Ranthambhore. She appeared in good health when she was released around 12 noon in Sariska. VP Singh, chief of Rajasthan's state tiger task force, told Hindustan Times that the forest department would try to fly in another tigress before the monsoon sets in.
Meanwhile, presumably waiting for a partner, the T10 male – rather unimaginatively identified after his position in Ranthambhore's tiger index -- has already made two kills since his arrival at Sariska. With forest officers wary that any more goat may spoil his prey preference permanently, he is all set to walk free later tonight or tomorrow.With a prayer that he doesn't stray outside the forest, a team of scientists from Wildlife Institute of India will track his movements round-the-clock.
However, the two big cats will have to wait before they can check eachother out in the wild. Like the T10 male introduced on June 28, the tigress will also spend a few days inside her enclosure before she isfreed.
Once the Lakrda female is let out, Sariska will hold its breadth forthe royal courtship to begin. Cats mate easily but occasionally certain pairs act stubborn. In the present case, the T10 male being arather young tiger, forest officials feel he may need a bit of mentoring.
But the Lakrda female – so named after her territory in Lakrda – is atigress of rare pedigree. She is one of the many daughters of thevenerable Lady of the Lake (again named after her territory) alias Machhli (fish mark on her skin), the tigress famous for successfully raising four litters. No doubt the forest officials can trust the Lakrda female to take effective early initiatives to repopulate Sariska.

Days after release, forest dept seeks bigger enclosure

3 July, 2008 HT IMPACT

Wary that Sariska's new tiger may stray in search of its lost territory at Ranthambhore if it is released out of its one-hectare enclosure too soon to avoid feeding it with live goats, The Rajasthanforest department is now considering the idea of introducing the tiger to a larger enclosure.
Today RN Mehrotra, Rajasthan's principal chief conservator of Forests, told PTI that the state department would soon decide whether to release the tiger to a wider enclosure from the present one at Naya Pani. He did not bother to explain why the department had opted for smaller enclosures in the first place.
However, sources said that the idea of constructing a bigger enclosure doesn't seem feasible at such a short notice, and the male tiger is likely to be let out of the enclosure before the arrival of the first tigress. Weather permitting, a tigress will reach Sariska in the next48 hours from Ranthambhore.
This comes two days after Hindustan Times had reported how, in atearing hurry to repopulate Sariska with tigers, the state authoritieshad cut down the size of the enclosure from a proposed minimum of eight hectares to just one hectare each. It had also reported how such a small enclosure with no wild prey naturally trapped inside, forcedthe forest staff to bait the tiger with live goats – a dangerous practice that, if prolonged, could change the big cat's natural preference for wild prey.
Meanwhile, the tiger made his second kill – another goat -- yesterdayand brisk movements indicated his sound health. It is, however, uncertain if the big cats will show any homing tendency until they are allowed to roam free.