The sprawling tiger landscape of Bhopal may not have been a designated national park or a sanctuary but the woody city surroundings have been buzzing with wildlife activities, denied and disregarded by the state forest department. There is a tiger love story unfolding in the forest, a tigress with four cubs and reports of atleast two pregnant tigresses. The tigers are multiplying on the city outskirts and so are the worries of the department.
The Love Story
A large contiguous forest area spread over about 150 sq square kms in the jungles around two famous dams- Kolar and Kerwa- is now home of atleast 10 adult felines. They are resident tigers of Bhopal- born and brought up in the city jungle and termed as the urban tigers. In fact the tiger landscape is spread beyond these two dams over a vast swathe of forest. If we calculate the area from the boundary of Ratapani sanctuary to Kewa , it is 200 sq kms of forest area . In fact, Bhopal’s tiger landscape is a part of a larger tiger corridor that stretches from Ratapani sanctuary to Kheoni sanctuary in Dewas, a city 150 kms away from Bhopal. These days a sturdy well built tiger identified as T1234 is engaged in an action ,a rare social act seen in the wild. T1231 is making kills for an injured tigress and her three cubs hiding near Kathotia jungle area- a thick forest patch near Kolar dam. The tiger is frequenting the forest patch, making kills and dropping the carcass near the tigress to feed her and the three cubs . The front foot of the tigress was injured ,perhaps, by a wire snare set by poachers . She might have also been injured by the wire mesh of the chain link erected in the jungle to check the tiger movement.
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The forest department officials know about the injured tigress but chose to keep quiet. “T-1234’s love for the tigress and cubs is unique”, said a department official, “this is very rare. On many occasions, male tigers kill the cubs but this is something very very rare.” Most of the time, T1234 kills cattle to feed the tigress. He also spends time with the family before leaving for the Kerwa dam forest area where he was born and brought up by his mother T123. In 2018, a tigress was also injured in a similar manner. Officials tried to rescue her also but by the time they reached the spot where the injured tigress was located, she had disappeared in the jungle.
Most Fertile Tigress
T123 is perhaps one of the most fertile females of the Bhopal landscape of tigers. In her three litters in the last five years, the tigress gave birth to 9 cubs including the present four. The tigress is now sighted with her four cubs in the Kerwa area. The same tigress had recently killed a dog near a restaurant on Kerwan road. T123 is often sighted near the Kaliasot dam and an educational institution nearby. The sighting continues despite iron mesh chain links surrounding the institution owned by a media group of Bhopal. T1234, the tiger in love with the injured tigress of Kathotia forest patch, belongs to the second litter of the same tigress. One of his siblings had moved towards Ratapani a few months ago but the tiger was never tracked.
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Movement of the three cubs of the first litter, now full grown tigers, is not known because of the government’s disinterest in tiger tracking. After the director of Ratapani sanctuary was transferred recently, the tiger tracking has been stopped completely in the sanctuary. There is no tiger tracking in the forests of Rehti and Ichawar ranges of the forest in Sehore. There is movement of another tigress identified as T322 in the landscape. One of the four cubs, a sub adult stalking MANIT and later caught and released in Madhav National park in Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh, belongs to the same tigress. The tigress has again given birth to atleast two cubs as it was seen as a tiger during the recent mating period.Besides, there are reports of movement of two pregnant tigress in the forests of kathotia.
No Tracking of Tigers
Despite so much tiger presence and breeding, the movement of the urban tigers in the landscape is not being tracked “ sincerely” . “ The officials have been in denial mode”, claimed a young officer. “ The department officials in the neighbouring Sehore do not want to show the tiger presence as it would increase their work load”, said another officer. Tigers, he said, have been moving from Ratapani to Dewas’s Kheoni sanctuary and even beyond. But the movement of big cats of Bhopal is not being tracked.
“ Tracking of the urban tigers would not only enrich the department’s data bank but also the routes taken by the tigers to move out be known”, he opined. Earlier there was an estimate of 18 tigers using the landscape but in the absence of monitoring of their movement , their whereabouts are not known. Besides, the issue of the status of tiger reserve to Ratapani, the source population, has also been pending for over 10 years. The NTCA has given in-principle approval to accord the status of tiger reserve to the sanctuary but the state government is yet to give its nod for the project.
By Deshdeep Saxena
Banner image: MP Forest Department