With an alarming 30 tigers missing from the RTR in the last decade, it may not be too long before the reserve loses its sighting friendly tag to some other park unless immediate steps are taken.
Since 2009, the park has mysteriously lost 30 tigers including seven old and 23 young ones. Among the 23 are 11 females which do not usually venture out for creating a territory, like the males. Out of this, while most number of tigers, nine went missing between 2014 and 2017. It was followed by two periods — 2006-2010 and 2013-2014 -- when five tigers each went missing. Even in the past two years, data reveals, five tigers went missing. They are T-9, T-20, T-77, T-78 and T-23.
This data, however, does not include 22 other tigers that died natural deaths and their bodies were traced. These tigers were either killed in territorial fights or due to human intervention or were poisoned by villagers.
There are even some, where the cause of death still remains a mystery. Ranthambore also had 18 other tigers that were either shifted to Sariska and Mukundra reserves or had migrated to other forests outside the state or had been put into captivity due to “abnormal” behaviour.
“A careful analysis of the data on missing tigers reveals that over the years, the reserve has developed two black holes in the north-east and south- east areas of the park adjoining Sawai Man Singh sanctuary. Most of the tigers that went missing were last sighted in these areas,” says conservation biologist Dharmendra Khandal of Tiger Watch.
One of the black holes identified is in the region between Sawnta and Kila Khandar with its centre at Banpur. The other is the Kanduli, Kharda Ka Nallah and Bhairupura region. In the first black hole, 11 tigers have gone missing after being sighted, while the second black hole has seen eight tiger missing. The two areas amount to 60% of the total tigers that have gone missing from the park.
Both these areas are natural outlets from the reserve but are adjoining 13 villages. The land here is fertile and there is plenty of water because of which extensive farming happens in these regions.
“Villagers electrify their fences to ward off animals, but are often themselves a victim to electrocution. On December 26, 2018 the body of one Badri Sharma was found in one of the farms. Another person identified as Raju Gujjar too died of electrocution in the winter of 2017 near Khandar region. That tigers are also killed in these areas became amply evident when bodies of T-45 and T-46 were found in Khandar. Both deaths were due to revenge killing. Bombs used as baits for animals also been recovered from these areas as was a snared leopard once,” added Khandal.
Officials conceded that big cats venturing out of the park through nullahs are a menace. “These natural nullah open towards the Chambal area which is surrounded by villages. The farm lands are owned by villagers and tigers are at risk if they venture outside. We have also deployed additional guards at the post, but cannot restrict the animal walking out through natural path,” said Ranthambore divisional forest officer Mukesh Saini.
“However, we would soon constitute a committee to ascertain the exact number of missing tigers from the park,” he added.
Non-reporting of many deaths is also a reason for missing tigers. “Often villagers lay traps and tigers get killed. The body is then quietly buried as they do not want to get into trouble. Sometimes, it is also a case of migration to other states with officials not following it up,” he said.
Despite the growing vulnerability of tigers at the park in the recent years, there is little for an already over-worked forest department. “Not only are we under-staffed in terms of manpower, but remain engrossed in catering to VIP tourists’ safaris throughout the year. Most of our seven jeeps and our staff have to be deployed for VIP duty as requests pour in from the high and mighty. Special forces like the Special Tiger Protection Force, which was to be developed, have remained a pipe dream,” explained forest officials.