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Blue-bloods hunt for elusive western UP maneater (feb.)


Times of India, Delhi, Monday 17th February 2014

With nine killings in 45 days, the elusive maneater of Bijnor is giving a tough time to its 'royal' trackers. Unable to rein in the big cat, believed to be a tigress, forest department had called in members of royal families to help track the predator after she made her fourth kill on January 8. But the animal continues to elude them as terror stalks areas of Bijnore district where the feline made her last few kills.

The swiftness with which the tigress has crossed borders between UP and Uttrakhand, does not support the claim that she is physically deformed or injured. What made her abandon her natural prey and hunt for humans is not fully understood. An infected jaw or mouth could be a possible reason but that is only a conjecture so far.

On February 6, the tigress killed a herdsman, but not his cattle, in the Sahuwala forests of Bijnor district. "Villagers realized that while his cattle returned from the jungle, the man went missing. Later, a human head, a half eaten leg and an arm were found in the forest," said Kunwar Sanjay Singh, registered shooter in Uttarakhand.

Singh hails from a royal family of Moradabad and has shot 10 maneaters, all leopards. This is the first time he is leading a team of shooters to track a maneating tiger. Oval shaped pugmarks at the sight of killings, show it's a tigress. Though its age is being put at 3 to 5 years, there's little certainty about it.

Tracking the maneater along Jim Corbett Park in UP are Prashant Singh from Dehradun, Samarjit Singh, from the royal family of Kuchesar in Bulandshahr and Sudhir Raghav from Naroli in Moradabad.

"A cat family animal breaks the windpipe of its kill and to kill humans that way is easier," said Sanjay Singh.

Royal shooters have been tracking the animal from Jaspur in Bijnor when she was not declared a maneater.

Between December 29 and January 10, she had killed five people in Sambhal, Moradabad and Bijnore. On January 9, forest department declared the tigress a maneater and shooters were called in.

"We could have caught her had the forest department tied the bait in Najibabad on February 6 when she had killed a man," said Singh. But locals got so agitated that police had to be called in and neither bait nor 'machaan' could be set up at the place.

Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, who had shot down a maneater in Faizabad in 2009, left after the forest department did not allow night search.

While the maneating tigress is constantly moving in the Sahuwala compartment, 5 to 6km everyday, shooters confirm the presence of at least two other big cats in this Corbett landscape.

A male's pugmarks have been noticed often and clearly, but locals say it has been in the area for 10-12 years and has not killed. A tigress with her cubs was also present but fresh pugmarks have not been seen.

Director of Jim Corbett Park, Samir Sinha, however, did not say much about the maneating incidents reported from the reserve. "Our first priority is to find out which tiger has caused the killing. Everything else we say about the incidents reported from Corbett depends on identifying the animal first."

UP forest department, meanwhile, has changed the strategy to hunt for the feline. Since Bijnore is a tiger-dominant and dense forest, to ensure that combing does not disturb other animals, department has taken to tracking pugmarks.

"We are now tracking the animal through pugmarks in Najibabad," said conservator, Moradabad, Kamlesh Kumar.

In the last about one-and-a-half month of the tiger search operation, UP has spent about Rs 15 lakh in transportation, lodging and other arrangements put up at the site. Camera traps and impression pads are being used to supplement the efforts.

Disturbed biodiversity to blame

Experts feel there are several reasons behind young tigresses straying in winters.

Former director, Project Tiger, government of India, R L Singh, said, "Winter is mating season. Young tigresses who mature after three years of age are pushed out by mothers or old tigresses. In a bid to form their own territory, the young ones stray."

Tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar said stray tigers are a common phenomenon all year round. "I would simply say manhandling of tigers is the reason behind incidents of straying. Human interference in forest, relocation of tigers, poor management of reserves are some of the reasons."

Stray tigers are a sign of deteriorating biodiversity. Programme coordinator, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), Tito Joseph said, "To say that all tigers stray because of one reason is not right. To say what is causing big cats in western UP to move out of forest there has to be a proper study of that part of the forest."