They named the six year old male feline Nandan, whose longing for the company of a female probably brought him close to the zoo. To his utter surprise, he found there about a dozen others from the big cat family, each one confined to their wire fence boundaries. Among the caged tigers was Sara, a young tigress.
Nandan had spent days outside the wire fence that separated the tiger safari from the Chandaka Wildlife Sanctuary, gauging the mood of the other tigers and wondering if they would be friendly to him or would turn hostile. He was oblivious of the fact that he had been a cause of concern for others. His pug marks, which had sent a panic signal, had been studied by the forest officials. Panic gripped the villages located in the sanctuary; people demanded his capture.
Unaware of all these developments, Nandan felt a strong urge to scale the fence to come close to Sara. And one day, he noticed an opening in the wire boundary. A simpleton as he was (being a tiger, he was no match to human machinations), Nandan walked into the safari that housed other tigers, Sara among them. Little did he know that the opening that he found was but a gate put under CCTV surveillance. As he walked forward, gate after gate closed behind him. He was confined in the tiger safari.
Lust had brought yet another member of the big cat family into the confines of this zoological park. Way back in 1967, the urge for male company had impelled a tigress from the wilderness to scale its wire fence. Even today the guides are eloquent about their love affair. This time it was a tiger. Last time it was a tiger act, but this time it was a human act that trapped a tiger.
Soon the Forest department officials, wildlife activists and local people got into a moral dilemma. An animal in wilderness has been captivated in violation of the wild life law. It needs to be released. Chief Wildlife Warden Janardan Diwakar Sharma said the Government was planning to release it back into the wild. “Why imprison a wild animal when it is healthy? We are trying to assess which habitat it belongs to so that it can be released back to the forest of its origin,” he told reporters.
People living in the nearby villages opposed the possible move. They felt unsafe with a tiger prowling in their vicinity and moved the court. And the zoo officials were caught in a dilemma as to what to do with Nandan. They decided to draw the attention of the National Zoo Authority and National Tiger Conservation Authority for rehabilitation of the animal. A technical committee was set up. It took almost a month’s time to decide that the tiger would stay in the zoo till his original habitat was identified.
Nandan was moved into an enclosure, where he was to wait for the verdict. But confinement was not acceptable to Nandan. On the very day he was confined to the enclosure, he jumped out of it in the dead of the night. He scaled the eighteen feet high wire mess boundary. Nandan was in the wilderness once again.
The tiger’s escape caused panic; people raised an alarm. He had walked into captivity and has now escaped confinement. The debate whether to keep the tiger in confinement or to release it in a sanctuary- Satkosia or Similipal proved futile.
About three weeks after, on the night of 23rd June 2013, Nandan came back again to Nandan Kanan Zoological Park. The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) informed the media that the tiger had roamed around the zoo after its escape. The then Forest and Environment Minister Bijayshree Routray fell sort of providing a character certificate to Nandan by saying that the tiger did not harm any human being or domestic animal.
Once again, Nandan captured everyone’s imagination. Last year, National Tiger Conservation Authority had decided that the tiger should be released in the Similipal Tiger Reserve. It had clearly mentioned that the well-laid out procedure should be adhered to. Such release necessitates radio collaring of the tiger and a post-release protocol. But the release of Nandan in the tiger reserve has not happened as yet, though the wild cat has spent more than a year in captivity.
The plan for radio collaring faced a road block as Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) demanded Rs 53 lakh for radio collaring. The state government rejected the proposal of WTI which involved a high cost. The state government had two choices: radio collaring the tiger or releasing it without radio collaring and eventually losing all contact with Nandan to monitor its movement. The Forest and Environment Minister had issued an order for immediate release of the tiger without a radio collaring. But the NCTA’s nod is awaited.
While the state is yet to act decisively, Nandan is in captivity in enclosure no 31(D). He is being fed regularly. All day he lays idle; occasionally he gets restless. But the question is: what does Nandan think?
Does it repent leaving Satkoshia Sanctuary and coming over here? That seems unlikely considering the fact that Nandan had escaped captivity and had the option of not coming back. Then why did it come back? Why did it get captivated in the first place? The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests had explained that the tiger had strayed into Nandan Kanan Zoological Park in search of food. If food was the motive, why did he escape, scaling the 18 feet high wire fence? He was being fed on a regular basis. Rather, after being moved into the separate enclosure, he had the assured access to his designated amount of food from the park authorities.
Does Nandan think of Sara, the tigress, for whose company and love it had walked into the tiger safari? Does he wonder why the zoo authorities were not allowing him to mingle with Sara? Don’t they know that it is only because of Sara that he walked into the tiger safari? Well, the first time he walked in, he thought that he had found a way through the wire mess boundaries. But soon he knew that he had been tricked. Still he did not resist this, because he was closer to Sara.
He was in the company of other tigers, feeling that he was a part of the big cat family. He had not seen a grown up tiger ever since he grew up. He was happy in the safari. But almost after a month of walking into the company of tigers, he was shifted to another place. It was a small place, with no one for company. He felt suffocated. He wanted to roam freely. The enclosure angered him. Neither Sara nor any other tiger was in sight.
He wanted to break away from the enclosure. He tried to scale the height but in vain. His loss of freedom soon angered him. He gave a big jump and grabbed the wire mess and slowly climbed up till he was at the top to jump out of the cage. He sped away from the place like a bullet. Once again he was free. Once again, he was in the forests of the night.
But soon the urge to be in Sara’s company started growing. The farther he moved, the stronger was his desire. And he started returning. He was aware of the fact that captivity was waiting for him there. The attraction proved stronger and he was willing to risk captivity.
Now Nandan is back in the zoo. He was confined to the enclosure once again. But, this time the fence is higher and more secure. However, he does not try to scale it. When he grows restless, he paces along the fence. Blood surges to his head. But his longing for Sara calms him. He wants to be in her company. Why don’t these people allow him to go closer to her? They are said to be wildlife experts, who know more about wildlife than animals themselves.
Nandan tries to make out what they discuss. They discuss many things--law, wildlife, radio collaring, shifting him to Similipal, etc. But they never talk of allowing him to be in Sara’s company. What kind of experts are they? They do not even understand what a female company means to an adult male tiger like him.
May be, these humans never understand.