India

What’s stalking Sunderbans tiger?

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]omething is wrong in the Sunderbans. In the dense, mysterious mangroves where few dare to tread, something is sucking the life force out of the magnificent Sunderbans tiger. For the third time in three years, a young tigress has been found tottering on weak hind legs.

[pullquote]While its ideal weight should have been 100kg, the famished tigress weighed a mere 75kg.[/pullquote]

The three-year-old tigress caught on Monday near Pirkhali-I island should have been at the peak of her prime. Just stepping into adulthood, you would expect it to be a bundle of sinews with lightning sharp reflexes. But this tigress could not even crawl to the tethered goat offered as bait. While its ideal weight should have been 100kg, the famished tigress weighed a mere 75kg.

If only one such big cat had been found in the Sunderbans, it would be a cause of alarm in itself. But three triggered some sort of a panic. Wildlife officials are desperate to find out what is ailing the tigers – it if is malnutrition or a disease. If it’s a disease, experts have to find out how it is communicated because tigers are loners. Is it the environment? That would cause serious concern because the Sunderbans tiger has adapted itself to thrive in the brutal, saline ecosystem.

[pullquote align=”right”]Of the six tigers captured from the Sunderbans in the last three years for treatment, at least three of them have a weak posterior.[/pullquote]

Of the six tigers captured from the Sunderbans in the last three years for treatment, at least three of them have a weak posterior, say sources. All three are young adults. A tiger, captured last July, was recently diagnosed with osteoarthritis and is being treated at Alipore zoo. A tigress, caught in the forests of Netidhopani in October 2011, is also under treatment at Alipore zoo for weak hind legs. The tigress trapped on Monday night has alarming signs of starvation.

A three-member panel of veterinarians – D N Banerjee from Alipore zoo, Utpalendu Mondal, resident vet of Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (STR), and Gosaba block livestock development officer (BLDO) Bidyut Majhi – are monitoring the tigress. They said it would be kept under observation at the Sajnekhali beat office for five days.

[pullquote]”On Sunday, we placed a trap cage with a goat as live bait close to the sweet-water pond. But to our dismay, the tigress could not move in spite of getting an easy prey.”[/pullquote]

Based on the clinical observation so far, some injections, mostly nerve stimulants, have been prescribed for the tigress, said Banerjee. “It had a weak posterior and its temperature was slightly high. It will be administered two bottles of saline once a day for the next three days. Five to six kg of chicken will be its regular diet for the next five days,” he said, adding that decision on blood tests to determine the impact of starvation will be taken next week.

The foresters spotted the tigress on Saturday near the forests of Pirkhali-I and noticed some abnormality in its movement. “On Sunday, we placed a trap cage with a goat as live bait close to the sweet-water pond. But to our dismay, the tigress could not move in spite of getting an easy prey. It finally had a go at the goat on Monday night and we managed to trap it,” said a forest department official.

Joydip Kundu, a member of the National Tiger Conservation Authority Schedule-I animal handling committee, visited the spot on Tuesday and said that the tigress might have some internal injuries. “Otherwise how can a big cat, which has just attained adulthood, not even stand properly? It’s definitely not in a position to go back to the wild now, and all its treatment should be arranged in the mangroves rather than shifting it to Alipore zoo,” he said. Echoing his view, another member of the committee, Anurag Danda, said that they have asked the department to find out a way of getting the animal X-rayed without shifting it to the city zoo.

Wildlife Institute of India’s Y V Jhala had earlier called for a study to check whether any disease outbreak was behind the repeated tiger strayings in the Sunderbans. For instance, in 2009-10, there were reports of frequent straying of Siberian tigers into Russian villages and towns. It was later found that the big cats were infected with canine distemper, a viral infection. However, Dr Banerjee said that as of now, the tigress doesn’t have any symptoms of canine or feline distemper. “We will definitely run some tests in the days ahead to find out what’s ailing the tigress,” he added.

Conservationist Belinda Wright said that it’s unfortunate that a young tigress was found in such a state. “But the authorities, I believe, will surely take up the matter seriously which will be key to the conservation of the big cats on this Unesco world Heritage Site,” she added.

Original Story: Times of India, Photo: Prosenjit Das Neogi | Flickr