Tigers travel long distances in search of food-rich areas and the territories. In the process they often cover such a long distances that it becomes almost impossible for them to return to their original places. Absence of partners and the over-crowding of sanctuaries also force them to look for new areas, but this is a risky affair. Straying animals usually face threats of being poached or being killed in revenge by villagers living on the periphery of parks after the big cats feed on their livestock.
Sunderbans are the best example of such cases. This area has an age-old history of man-tiger conflicts. There are records of ‘man-eating’ tigers and tiger-straying in the fringe villages of the forest since the 18th century. Even today straying of tigers is a common phenomenon in this area where the animal swims across the rivers to reach villages, especially during nights. Data available from 1986 to 2003 shows a total of 186 Tigers strayed into villages situated on the fringes of the Indian side of the Sunderban. Of these 140 were males and 46 were females.
World’s longest walk by any Tiger
According to a report in a news paper (Times of India, May 15, 2011) a young male tiger, wandering through Karnataka’s forests (India) in search of its own territory, has achieved a feat that will register him in the wildlife record books. In 15 months, the said tiger travelled 280km as the crow flies, more than the straight-line distance between India’s capital town of Delhi and Shimla, capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh. When it comes to the actual distance travelled by the cat it would be more than 350km!!!! This is the longest documented distance traversed by a tiger anywhere in the world.
This came to light after a tiger was caught in a village near Shikaripur town of Karnataka’s Shimoga district on May 1, 2011. It had strayed into a betel nut plantation and was stoned by a mob. The cornered tiger attacked and killed a man before it was tranquilized by forest officials. On May 7 the tiger was released in the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary. Photographs taken during the event were analyzed by scientists of the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), wildlife NGO which has been camera-trapping in Karnataka’s forests for around two decades.
“Photo-matching with our database, the animal was reliably identified as male tiger BPT-241, last camera-trapped in Gundre, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, on February 11 and 18, 2010,” said Dr K Ullas Karanth, head of CWS India. “A GIS map showed that the straight line distance moved by this tiger since its photo-capture from Bandipur to Shikaripur is about 280km. The actual distance traveled by it would be more than 350km,” Karanth said. Looking at the map, one could say the tiger would have generally moved through forest patches but would also have traversed through coffee plantations, he added.
Karanth said though young male tigers were known to travel long distances to establish their territory, this is the longest dispersal documented through camera-trapping or radio-telemetry.
Other Cases of straying
A tigress migrated to a new reserve — A two-and-a-half year old tigress, code named T6, migrated from New Nagzira sanctuary to Navegaon Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR), 70km apart, in Gondia district of Maharashtra in India. It migrated somewhere around December 2014, crossing state and national highways, agriculture fields and human habitation, but it became known to the forest officials in early January. Experts are unable to explain the cause that triggered T6’s migration to Navegaon, because females generally tend to stay in the core area with the intention of bringing up family in a secured environment. Usually it is only the males that are known to migrate, especially in search of mate.
Vidarbha tiger walks 100 km in search of mate — In August 2013, three-year-old Jay, the tiger, walked 100 km, crossed National Highway No. 6, one of India’s busiest corridors, waded through Vidarbha’s biggest river Wainganga, then in spate and made his way to a forest on the other side. Originally of Gondia district’s Nagzira wildlife sanctuary, Jay was looking for was a mate.
He wasn’t the only one driven 100 km out of Nagzira in search of a companion. The sanctuary’s skewed male-female ratio saw a similar young male tiger, Aayaat, migrate to Balaghat district in February, the same year.
From all accounts, he has settled in nicely too. “A very hefty tiger, he has chucked out a resident male tiger,” says Nagpur honorary wildlife warden Rohit Karu. “He is now lording over about 70 sq km.”
From Ranthambore to Datia in Madhya Pradesh — A young male from Ranthambore Tiger Reserve travelled through villages and agricultural fields, crossing the Chambal River to settle down 220km away in a patch of forest in Datia district of Madhya Pradesh (MP). On March 14, 2013 a three-year-old tiger was found in 55km long and 11-12km wide Seoda range of Datia territorial forest division. Identified as a male cub of tigress T-26, the tiger was one of three that went missing from Ranthambore. The other two were traced to Kuno wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
From Dudhwa Tiger Reserve to villages in Lucknow district — A tiger strayed into Rahmankhera, Gahiya, Ullrapaur, Meethenagar and Dugauli villages, few kilometres from Lucknow, capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh (India) covering a distance of about 300 km. It was trapped after more than hundred days and finally reintroduced successfully to the wilderness of Dudhwa Tiger Reserve (DTR) in the first week of June 2012.
It had strayed into the said villages and killed 20 cattle, but the people tolerated and did not harm it. Cat was finally captured after 108 days and sent back to its ‘home’ – Dudhwa National Park in Lakhimpur Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh (UP). The cat had ventured out of South Kheri, sometime around December 2011 and finally landed in Rahmankhera covering a distance of 250-300 km. After roaming around Rahmankhera, Gahiya, Ullrapaur, Meethenagar and Dugauli villages for about four months the feline was safely tranquillised, captured and sent back ‘home’ on 25 April 2012.
In 2006, when radio collaring started in India, a young male tiger, BDT-130, was camera trapped in Bhadra forests and then again in Dandeli in 2008. The straight line dispersal in that case was 197km. A radio-collared tiger in Russia was found to have traveled 195km. In late 2010, a young male created a scare among villagers near Mathura in western UP (India), which experts at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) said, had come from Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Rajasthan) covering about 200 km. It was out of the reserve for about five months. The tiger then made its way to the Bharatpur bird sanctuary, from where it was relocated to Sariska, originally a hunting preserve of the erstwhile princely state of Alwar (Rajasthan, India). In 1955 it was declared a wildlife reserve and later in 1978 made Tiger Reserve. The total area of this park is 866 sq. km.
According to another expert, a conservation biologists and a member of Tiger Watch, a Non Governmental Organization (NGO), Dharmendra Khandal, three tigers have migrated from the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve to other areas. They are T-35, a female, is at Kota, T-47 has made Dholpur his home and T-38 or the Sultanpur male has migrated to Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh. It was somewhere around September, 2010 the male had left Ranthambhore for its new home where it reached after covering a distance of about 100km. Forest officials in Madhya Pradesh feel with no tigress present in the area, T-38 could move forward to the Madho National Park that has a few big cats. Officials termed it as a natural dispersal process catalyzed by over-crowding at the Ranthambore reserve.
Another report from Jaipur (Rajasthan, India) in the same paper (Mar 30, 2011), says the problem of tigers straying from Ranthambore National Park came up for discussion during the International Conference held in the same month on Tiger Conservation in Delhi. The ministry of forest and environment is to take steps to ensure safety of tigers that stray from Ranthambore.
The Ministry of Forests and Environment sought suggestions from the Rajasthan Government at the Conference to ensure safety of such tigers. The government of Rajasthan had already announced to develop the area connecting Ranthambore with the Mukundra hill sanctuary as a corridor for tiger movement. The area is frequently used by straying tigers from Ranthambore and developing it would give the big cats a safer passage.
The Ranthambore National Park has been suffering from a problem of plenty for some time now. Though the total area of Ranthambore tiger reserve is about 1,394.478 sq km but about 31 resident tigers are confined to an area of less than 400 sq km of the core area. The rapid multiplication of tigers in the reserve has been posing a bigger problem for foresters.
“The problem is due to rising population of tigers. The semi-adults find it difficult to chalk out their territory and stray from the sanctuary. Sometimes, tigers also take to fighting among themselves over territory, often resulting in the death of one. The answer may lie in developing other areas of the park like the Sawai Man Singh Sanctuary to house the rising number of tigers,” officials say.
The state has deployed a large number of personnel to keep a watch straying tigers. Border home guards, ex-Army personnel, Van Mitras (friends of forests) have been deputed for the purpose. For the first time the state has also deployed cadres from the Rajasthan Administrative Service (RAS) who can speak the local language.
Forest officials are also trying to make more room for tigers by relocating villages situated in the forest. “Last year (2010) we relocated one village from Ranthambore. This year (2011) too we are relocating about 10 villages from the forest to make room for more tigers,” officials said.
(i) Scarcity of prey is not the cause for tiger straying in villages:- The main prey animals of tigers in Sunderbans are Chital Deer and Wild boar. Others include Rhesus monkeys, water monitors and even fish and crabs. Although no proper prey-base study has been conducted but there are still a good number of boars, Chitals, monkeys and monitors. In such circumstances tiger straying due to scarcity of prey animals does not stand good reason for the Sunderbans.
(ii) Proximity of human habitation to the tiger habitat:- In some areas of Sunderbans human habitation and tiger habitat are divided by very narrow creeks. The cow sheds are situated almost at the fringe of the villages and on the banks of the narrow creeks. Generally catching of prey in the Sunderbans is quite difficult for the tigers due to the geomorphologic conditions. Sometimes the tigers stray inside the villages in search easy prey like cattle.
(iii) Tigers do not stray in the village to kill easy prey like human:-
Although the Sunderbans bear the bad name of ‘the land of man-eating tigers’, yet the view that tigers stray in the villages of the Sunderbans to kill human being is totally wrong. Among the 94 cases recorded till 1995, there were only four cases where human beings were killed by tigers. From 1997 to 2005 there was only one case. The fact is man eating takes place in the forest and the victims are usually fishermen, honey collectors and wood cutters.
(iv) Mangrove strips to protect embankments are confused by tigers as their own habitat:- In the fringes of some villages embankment protection mangrove strips have been developed. Tigers confuse them with their own habitat and come inside or in the vicinity of the villages.
(v) Littering females strays in the paddy field to protect her cubs:-
Female tigers have also been reported to stray into the paddy fields around the villages during littering season apparently to protect their newborns from the male tigers.
(vi) Confusion with paddy field with Porteresia coarctata:- During the late monsoon or post-monsoon when paddy around the villages has ripened. The travelling tigers often get confused as to whether there is a forest on the other side of the creek or not. Adding to this confusion, the ripe paddy looks somewhat similar to Porteresia coarctata, commonly known as “shali ghas“.
(vii) Generally old tigers stray for easy prey:- Partly it may be true that old tigers may stray in the villages for easy prey like cattle or stray dogs, but this is not the major cause of straying.
(viii) Straying due to washing out of pheromone by tidal waves:-
Every day the Sunderbans witness high tide and low tide twice. Pheromone sprayed by tigers on tree trunks to mark their territories are washed out by the tidal waves everyday and tigers get confused and stray inside human habitation.
(ix) The male tiger losing domain to the aggressive male tiger may stray:- After the fight among big cats often the loser is driven away out of its territory. If he doesn’t get one nearby he is forced to travel long distances and in the process he get strayed.