Reintroduction of Tigers: -

 Articles Published on Times of India on 28th June 2020 by Rajesh Kr Gupta I.F.S.

The IFS officer was deputy director Sariska (2005-2008) during tiger reintroduction phase. Views expressed are personal

Sariska 2008: Untold stories of first tiger reintroduction in India

In all 30 tonnes of iron, 5,000 sqm of chain-link fence, 400 bags of cement and 150 labourers joined hands to erect the citadel for India’s first reintroduced tiger in Sariska. True where there is a will there is a way. The sheer grit and determination of the government of Rajasthan, support from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and technical expertise of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), made this experiment successful as the first Tiger Reintroduction in the country.

And on June 28, 2008, the first male tiger, airlifted from Ranthambhore in an Indian Air Force MI 17, was translocated and released in the one-hectare enclosure at Nayapani. The moment of 1.12 pm went into history as the Tiger- ST 1, set its first pugmark in the ‘Tigerless’ Tiger Reserve for a long 3.5 years. He was joined by his paramour ST2 on July 4, 2008.

From 2 tigers reintroduced in 2008, Sariska has achieved a figure of 20 in 2020 within a span of 12 years. Field officers having worked in Sariska in its dark days and authorities associated with the programme from NTCA, WII and state forest department, realise this as a great feat.

Let me narrate some untold stories on this historical day of the 12th anniversary of Sariska Tiger Reintroduction. As diploma trainees of the 26th P G Diploma Batch from Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, we came to Sariska Tiger Reserve for the techniques tour during November 16 - December 12, 2004. We had done the population estimation exercises for the herbivores and carnivores but could not find any pugmark of the tiger.

The news that Sariska Tigers had “vanished’’ was made public on January 23, 2005 and was confirmed by the authorities on February 17, 2005.
Having joined Sariska in late 2005, we sent a proposal of reintroducing the tiger to the chief wildlife warden office in Dec 2005, for a 150 hectares enclosure. Meanwhile in 2007 as the pre-reintroduction phase of revamping protection network, closure of state highway, regulation of tourism traffic to Pandupole and relocation of villages were on, WII envisaged a 2x2sqkm enclosure, i.e., 40,000 hectares for soft release of the tiger. We sent the recovery plan for Sariska for constructing a 10-hectare enclosure to NTCA in 2007 and finally when the day was coming close, we actually settled for two 1-hectare enclosures at a projected cost of approximately Rs 30 lakh. What started with 150 hectares culminated into 1 hectare.

As field managers, we were apprehensive of the initiatives because less space meant more stress to the tiger in a new home range but looking into the paucity of the time and optimal utilisation of resources, we opted to accept the challenge with continuous support from NTCA and state government and WII. The first enclosure was completed on June 23, 2008 and we were ready to receive the male tiger.

Simultaneously work was in progress for the 2nd enclosure for the tigress, 20 feet away from the male enclosure. This was completed on June 26. On the D-Day, the clouds wept. By 7 am it was a deluge. The visibility was technically zero for the MI 17 IAF helicopter to land. News came that Ranthambore was in heavy rains and the WII team was finding it difficult to tranquillise the radio collared tiger T 10 in Bakola area.

 Finally, it was tranquillised and the most prestigious ‘cargo’ was shifted to MI 17 to land in the muddy plains at Nayapani in Sariska.
At 1.12 pm the King set foot on Sariska. In the evening, we sat with the forest guards, stationed at the tent adjacent to the enclosure and directed them to patrol the fence boundary 24x7. We even alerted them about possible threat of poisoning the tiger by throwing poisoned meat loaf within the enclosure by any trespasser. It may not sound prudent but we did not want to take any chances considering the past history of poaching’s in Sariska.

The female tigress ST 2 was released in the 2nd enclosure on July 4. We used our limited wisdom to experiment. The urine was soaked in a gunny bag in the helicopter before landing and placed at one end of the enclosure of the male tiger. We tried to use the concept of chemical signalling concentrating mainly on pheromone signals among cats to lure the male tiger towards the female. Our intention was to keep it close to ST-2 female on release, so that it does not stray away out of the Tiger Reserve.

The female was also being monitored with the receivers in a different frequency. The signals were received form a single point throughout the day of July 6, the day of release of the male. Initially we presumed that due to shyness and acclimatization behaviour in a new territory, it was a natural phenomenon. At 10 pm, I received a call that the female is not moving and the signal is being received from the same point. I was shocked! Immediately we decided to investigate the reasons.

We reached the enclosure at 11.45 pm. Suddenly, the tigress was heard running on the inner side of the fence, panting high, just 2-3 metres away from us. It moved in high speed for 150mt along the fence and then jumped in the waterhole within the enclosure. It was a sigh of relief for us. The tigress came back again and now moved in the reverse direction panting along its movement and then she vanished in the bushes. There was silence. Our anxiety grew. We decide to observe for the night from the watch tower. At 3.25 am, the tigress hit the fence with enormous power-- the sound echoed in the valley. The stress of arrest in the enclosure was evident. We were worried and opened the gate for release immediately.

But the scary event was yet to come. The signal kept coming from a single point throughout the day till night. We know got tensed and were apprehensive of some mishap. Together with WII scientists we decided to enter the enclosure in the night but prudently thought of waiting till morning and took a calculated risk. At 1.05 am in the night we received the message. ‘Tigress is out Sir! We have seen the flash of the camera trap! We were relieved of the tremendous stress and after 30 minutes we reached the gate area of the second enclosure to see the pugmarks and other evidences. We rejoiced. The objective of the reintroduction was achieved. The tigers were free.

Sariska Tiger Reserve - Reintroduction of Tigers

To read the article on TOI website