On a Trail to Track the Missing Ranthambhore Tigers

We got one of the poorer cousins at Delhi zoo to pose for us, who confirmed the news of the escapade with a somewhat weak "haloom" roar. Photo by PS

We got one of the poorer cousins at Delhi zoo to pose for us, who confirmed the news of the escapade with a somewhat weak "haloom" roar. Photo by PS

Four ferocious residents of Ranthambhore National Park are missing, it is reported. The residents have been identified as three tigers and a tigress. Quoting UM Sahai, the principal chief conservator of forest and chief wildlife warden, PTI on August 6 reported that no signs of “territorial fight” have been detected yet and the teams of forest department are making efforts to locate them. “No dead body has been found yet,” he said (A tigress and three tigers missing from Ranthambore)

Howzzit undertook an extensive investigative reportage over two days to figure out the possibilities of the trek the missing residents of Ranthambhore National Park might have undertaken. Read with an adequate pinch of salt.

It is learnt that one tiger went missing in December last year; the others played the vanishing act this February. While it does not take a meteorological scientist to figure out that Ranthambhore gets quite chilly during those months, missing-tiger experts feel the four particular big cats had a Bengali gene.

“They might have felt really cold during the fairly chilly winters in the jungles of Ranthambhore,” one expert said. This, despite the adequate arrangements for warmers and monkey caps. “As a consequence, I believe the first tiger left the national park after getting feelers from other Bengali tigers in the Sundarbans and might have veered toward the mangrove forests in West Bengal.”

Talking to Howzzit, tiger tracers in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh said several tigers in Kanha and Panna tiger reserves in MP and Indravati Tiger Reserve in neighbouring Chhattisgarh reported hearing growl of a lone ranger sometime around mid-January. Some of the local tigers of MP told Howzzit on conditions of anonymity that they could sense a distinct Bengali drawl in the way the lone ranger, who refused to share his identity even with fellow big cats, roared “Haloom“.

However, a scrawny tiger from Naxal-infested Indravati Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh said the Ranthambhore tiger might have connections with the Naxals and last heard was being hunted by state reserve police forces. The local police, the scrawny tiger divulged, had put up posters around the state stating, “Wanted dead or alive: Anti-national Tiger from Ranthambhore close to the Maoists.”

The Indravati tiger, who claimed to have gone vegetarian at the sight of so much blood gore in the Naxal-affected state, however, said the Ranthambhore tiger “definitely crossed our borders”.

State patrolmen in West Bengal were tightlipped when asked whether any tiger had walked into the state and further into the Sundarbans. But a confidante of the West Bengal chief minister (name withheld on request) said the Ranthambhore tiger had sent the Trinamool Congress feelers late last year that it was tired of eating Rajasthani fare at Ranthambhore and wanted to relocate to the state once the CPI(M) was “kicked out of power”.

“This tiger definitely did not want the corrupt CPI(M) to return to power in the greater interest of the state tiger population,” the senior Trinamool leader said. “It claimed some CPM activists and leaders were neck-deep in corruption in feeding tigers in Kolkata zoo — they apparently gave the zoo tigers grass instead of meat on weekdays. Chicken mixed with mutton in the name of deer meat was served to them in zoo only on the weekends.”

Howzzit also checked with officials on the Bangladeshi side of the Sundarbans, but they said cross-border transit for tigers had not been opened yet.

Efforts to get the tigers in either parts of the Sundarbans to comment on the issue went in vain since they refused to take their eyes off the grueling battle on television between Bangladeshi Tigers and Zimbabwe in the first cricket Test match in faraway Harare. “Please come back to us after the match gets over,” a representative of the Sundarban tigers said. “We are rooting for the Bangladeshi tigers at present.”

Meanwhile, it is learnt from top-level sources that the three other tigers that went missing from Ranthambhore sometime in February this year veered toward the Pakistan border. It is still not confirmed whether they crossed the border but a source in the local police on the border areas of Rajasthan said three tigers were seen trailing a cross-border camel with multiple entry visa. “They might have crossed the border with the camel,” the official said on conditions of anonymity.

“But they will be promptly thrown in jail by the Pakistani authorities if they are found without visa,” the policeman added. “The Pakistanis are taking no chances these days with Indians — whether illegal immigrants, wannabe terrorists or visa-less tigers.”

A high-ranking source in New Delhi’s External Affairs Ministry confirmed that intelligence agencies have reported three tigers “rotting in Rawalpindi jail”.

Meanwhile, an unconfirmed report in a New Delhi newspaper known for its investigative journalism, reported after a covert operation that the tigers confined in Pakistani jail have appealed to the Indian government to have them extradited. “They are getting food worse than what their human jail-mates are getting,” the paper reported.

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Shantanu Datta

About Shantanu Datta

A newspaperman since early 1998, Shantanu had always wanted to be a journalist. Legend has it that the first words he uttered as a child were, "what's the lead today"? Jokes apart, having worked with five newspapers in four Indian cities, and playing an inning in a neighbouring country, he is back, hibernating for now. But ready to roar back and ask, "what's the lead today"? Some things never change, you see.