Of course, for past few months signs of a tiger roaming in the area had alerted the zoo management. They were alarmed as there are many herbivores in the zoo, besides every day there are several thousand visitors, who visit the zoo and large number of employees stay within the park. Their safety was the prime concern. To prevent any untoward incident they wanted to capture the tiger. But, it did not succeed.
After physical sighting of the animal by visitors and staff and noticing his movement close to the white tiger safari and in close proximity to captive tigers, they decided to keep the emergency double gate of the safari open and set up a CCTV camera. The tiger very calmly went in to the safari 1 minute past mid-night on 30/04/2013 and started roaming there. After the gate was closed the management heaved a sigh of relief.
But then a debate started in the media and different sections of the society as to what should be done with the tiger. Considering the status of tigers in the wild of the country it should be natural to expect that he should be released in to its own natal habitat. But the people of the villages surrounding the park organized a demonstration while pressing for their demand to retain it in the zoo and use it for breeding purposes as they consider the zoo as a pride for those villages and secondly they felt that if the tiger is released anywhere, he may return to this area which he appears to adore and endanger their lives and of their live stock. They had even named him as Nandan.
Tracing back the journey of this tiger to Nandankanan, it could be confirmed through evidences of pug marks and sighting that it was moving in Athagarh division forests which is on the northern side of River Mahanadi, the largest river of Odisha from September 2012 and was reported from Talabasta area of Chandaka-Dampada Wildlife Sanctuary in February, 2013 and within Nandankanan Sanctuary since 25th March, 2013, though there were some evidences dating back to January of this year. The kill evidences were not much pronounced though.
Saroj Patnaik, IFS, argued, “The nearest known tiger habitat is Satkosia Tiger Reserve which is about 120 kms away as the crow flies. But to come to Nandankanan the tiger would have passed through populated areas and patches of forests along the Bank of Mahanadi before crossing Mahanadi. Alternatively it would have moved northwards into Kapilas Reserve Forest through Saptasajya forest and come to Khuntuni area and crossed the National Highway, a very crowded road and then crossed the Mahanadi before crossing to Chandaka sanctuary. Or has it come from somewhere else? Hence, his natal habitat was not easy to pin point. The national register of wild tigers may be of help to pin point if it is one of the tigers earlier photographed through camera traps.”
Further he argued, “Assuming that he had strayed away from Satkosia; what could have been its compulsion to take this long, difficult and risk ridden journey. Was it that the pray status there was low? Or it came in conflict with another tiger as they are highly territorial animals? Or its place has been taken by another younger and more powerful tiger? That is most unlikely as this is around 6 years old of right breeding age and with excellent health. Hence releasing it back to Satkosia may again create problem for this animal, as he may prey upon domestic cattle of any of 100+ villages honeycombing the Tiger Reserve or becomes a man eater and in the process get killed? Or it could again try to trace its way back to this tract close to Bhubaneswar risking his life in the process.”
Though the voice in favour of its release to Satkosia was loud and clear, these aspects need very careful consideration before any decision is taken to release this animal to the T.R. with or without radio collaring and monitoring. Its life is of paramount importance, as the tiger number in the wild in the country has drastically declined.
There are bound to be argument against keeping it in captivity. But, this tiger could be used for conservation breeding with any other wild caught tigresses in off-display enclosures with minimum human contact for releasing them and their progeny into carefully studied suitable habitats to improve the status of tigers in the country.
But to everyone’s surprise, when the tiger was lured into a smaller enclosure by offering dressed meat and confined on the night of 31st May 2013, it escaped from this within about 2 hours, scaling the 5.5m high chain-link mesh fencing. The zoo personnel are seeing its signs within a small area of wilderness within the park, which is also a sanctuary and getting its photographs in the camera traps set up to track his movements. This tract has also a good pray population of cheetals, langurs, wild boars, pea fowl and others.
For the safety of the tiger and that of local people, visitors to the park, the herbivores in the open air exhibits and the zoo staff it is necessary to monitor its movement very closely, round the clock and when possible, he should be re-captured using any suitable method that will be easy to be applied considering the undergrowth, terrain, approachability, visibility, demographic features and other factors and again brought to captivity till a site for its re-introduction is pin-pointed after examining attributes of the said habitat.
In case such suitable and safe habitat is not found by the experts in the field after considering all prevailing aspects, there should be no hesitation to retain this tiger in the zoo, which has a excellent breeding record for the species. The people of the surrounding villages, staff and visitors should be alerted by the forest officials about the movement of this large cat so that they can take suitable precaution and inform the zoo management m if there is any direct sighting or evidence regarding his movement.
Most heartening fact is that, this zoological park, even after 46 years, despite being surrounded by the fast growing city of Bhubaneswar and many fold increase of visitation and consequent disturbance, still preserves it wilderness a prey base to the level of hosting tiger for such a long time, without harming local live stock or people. It is our duty to see that its surrounding is saved from being converted to a concrete jungle, for which there appears to be immense pressure. Let this park continue to be a little green lung of the city.