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Sholay replay at Ranthambore as tigers fight and kill for space

Sholay replay at Ranthambore as tigers fight and kill for space

An alert was sounded after camera traps in the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan captured images of a tiger with a snare wire coiled around its neck. According to state forest department officials, the three-year-old tiger T-108 was tranquilised and the wire removed. Pictures of T-108 with the snare around his neck and the rescue operations were shared on Twitter by Tiger Watch—an NGO working on wildlife conservation in Ranthambhore and its environs since 2003.

Arijit Banerjee, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Forest Protection) said: “Two images from separate camera traps were seen over two days–last Friday morning and Thursday night which showed tiger T-108 with a wire tangled around its neck. The field director contacted us to seek permission for tranquilising the tiger.”

According to forest officials, the noose was made of 2-mm thick galvanised iron wire. “It appears it is a loose noose, probably set for animals like boars or nilgais outside the forest. But even if it was meant for other animals, it is still hunting, which is illegal. We will inquire if there was any laxity in monitoring,” Banerjee informed the media.

<img class="wp-image-40978 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Ranthambore-Jai.jpg" alt="Ranthambore-Jai" width="1000" height="674" /> With brother Veeru killed in territorial fight, Jai remains alone (Photo: Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

Tiger T-108 has been in the news since last year. In fact, I saw T-108, his brother T-109 and their mother T-8 during my safari in Ranthambore last year. The guide told us that T-108 and T-109 are famously known as Jai and Veeru because of their inseparable nature like the two protagonists of the blockbuster movie <em>Sholay</em>. Their mother T-8 is named Ladli and the three constitute the famous tiger family of Ranthambore.

Laadli became the first of the tigers to populate this area in more than 20 years after she found a mate T-34 or Kumbha, son of T-16 also called Jhumroo, son of the legendary tigress Machili.

“These three were mostly sighted in Zone 6 and always used to give us good poses. The brotherly bonding between Jai and Veeru is not common among the big cats once they attain sub-adulthood,” says Kamal Sahansi, a veteran wildlife photographer who has been keenly observing the pair.

<img class="wp-image-40979 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Ranthambore_Ladli.jpg" alt="Ranthambore_Ladli" width="1000" height="666" /> Ladli the famous tigress still rules her territory (Photo: Kamal Sahansi)

Like <em>Sholay</em>, this story turned into a tragedy after Veeru succumbed to fatal injuries in October 2019 after a violent clash with 8-year old Fateh (T-43). Veeru dared to venture into Fateh’s territory in Zone 10 and in the enduing fight got 40 severe injuries and despite the best efforts could not be saved.

The last time we saw him with his brother Jai and mother Ladli was the Summer of 2019 when the brothers walked across the rocky plateau of Zone 6, where the mother was resting under a tree. Veeru was powerful and strong, killing independently and starting to look like the real male tiger we all knew that he could be. It is a tough time for a young male tiger as they aren't big or strong enough to take on existing territorial males. They have to find somewhere they can establish a territory of their own that has both suitable habitat, suitable prey and females.

Sometimes they get lucky, but in Veeru's case he was at in the wrong place at the wrong time. Territorial fights are part of natural selection but can turn brutal. Veeru’s death made his brother Jai fear for his life and he moved out to peripheral areas. He reportedly killed a nine-year-old boy who came too close on October 7 last year.

Since his brother’s death, Jai has been venturing from the reserve into the peripheral zones, close to the human population. A forest official said: “Jai is getting food, a mate and its own territory because of which the tiger does not want to come back,” into the reserve.

<img class="wp-image-40986 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Ranthambore_Jai_Territory.jpg" alt="Ranthambore_Jai_Territory" width="1000" height="775" /> Jai Looks around for his own territory in Ranthambore (Photo: Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

Officials want to relocate a few tigers to other sanctuaries. Of the total area of a little over 1,700 sq kms, only 600 sq kms can be used by the tigers. An analysis by Tiger Watch says that Ranthambore has 71 tigers, including 27 males, 24 females and 20 cubs. A male tiger alone needs an area of about 25 sq km and a female needs about 15 sq km, which clearly shows that there is lack of space for tigers.

Dharmendra Khandal, conservation biologist of Tiger Watch, says that while the number of tigers is increasing, “unfortunately their areas are shrinking. As per our analysis 26 tigers died in various circumstances. Two tigers died at the end of their lifespan and a total of 11 tigers died in territorial fights.”

The biggest threats are habitat loss, conflict with people and poaching. There are gender concessions as the larger territory of a male overlaps with several smaller territories of females. But no two adult males or females usually share space. The reserve is witnessing a series of territorial fights and two humans were killed. "In order to create space for themselves, tigers either end up in territorial fights or stray into human habitation,” says Khandal.

The time has come to develop a tiger corridor to facilitate free movements of tigers from Ranthambore towards the adjoining Mukund Tiger Reserve, Kailadevi buffer zone and Kuno wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. This will certainly address the space crunch.

Meanwhile Jai seems to have settled in Zone 10, with tigress T-114, the daughter of Fateh. Ladli still rules her territory and gave her fifth litter of three cubs.