When two mighty tiger cubs survived in an unsafe locale

When two mighty tiger cubs survived in an unsafe locale
While I write this note, a tigress is on her way to Sariska from Ranthambhore. The name of the tigress is Bina2 (B2), who is being translocated by a team of scientists, veterinary doctors and forest officers to her new home, which is 150 kilometres away from their present home. B2’s sister Bina1 (B1) was sent on Tuesday to Sariska, both sent with hope that they would be safe and happy. B1 and B2 are unusually raised; their mother died when they were just 3-4 months old. Being as small as dog size cubs made it impossible for them to survive, but destiny shaped their childhood when their father, the male tiger T25 or Dollar male adopted and nurtured them. It is heartening to see how two motherless cubs survived in a forest where many tigers and leopards live.

Fate had taken a turn when two years ago, their mother T5 succumbed to her injuries despite help from veterinary doctors. The tracking team of forest guards searched these cubs tirelessly but the mother hid them safely in a small den, where natural water was trickling. The forest department put small pieces of meat near the den and also installed video camera traps so they could monitor them. They found that the cubs not only consumed the meat and also were in good health.

Sadly, since there was no other way to raise them naturally in the wild, the forest officials were of the opinion to send them to a zoo. However, some experienced and confident forest guards decided to help them until then. Rajasthan forest minister Bina Kak also backed this idea to keep them in the same place rather than shifting them to an enclosure. They christened the sisters after the name of the minister as Bina 1 and Bina 2. Video camera traps were continuously recording their day-to-day activity. Tigers spray mark the territory to keep other predators away from approaching the area and the den area too, was initially spray marked by the mother of the cubs, but now it had faded. Besides, the meat’s smell was attracting other predators, which could be of great danger to the inexperienced young sisters. The inevitable happened; one night, two leopards were found roaming in the cave area and this was even recorded in the camera. At the same time, the cameras caught hyenas sniffing the area. Then appeared pugmarks of some big male tiger near the cave. The forest officials were afraid that the male could kill the little sisters in case he was not their father. Many more cameras were installed so as to monitor the real situation.

One day, a picture from these cameras comforted the officials when they found that father is calmly walking with the cubs. This was an amazing natural history moment where a male tiger adopted its orphaned cubs. A few months later, these sisters were spotted along with their father by tourists. There were instances when one of the cubs following the father watched carefully how he was spray marking his territory. Another instance documented on video by a Ranthambhore-based wildlifer Balendu Singh was when a tigress was about to charge on the cubs, the father jumped in between and stopped the female. When they got to the age of 18 months, they made their first wild kill: a blue bull.

These two years of Bina 1 and Bina 2 have showed us some unusual touching secretive life of the tigers. On Tuesday, Bina1 killed a wild boar within 15 minutes of being released in Sariska. This shows she has a will to survive and soon her sister would reunite with her in their new home, where they would spend the rest of their lives.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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