A tiger in a bird sanctuary

Amit Sengupta Delhi

At the declining Koeladeo National Park, also popular as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, the Siberian Cranes have not arrived for quite a while. Nor have rare long-distance bird species, who would fill the water bodies and trees with their exquisite crackling and colourful wings as spring arrives in the forest. However, surprisingly, a new guest has arrived from the dark: a big cat in full bloom. 
The tiger from Ranthambhore, T-7, after a long, adventurous journey beyond the national park, hitting the highway literally around the Mathura Refinery, and some rather unsavoury encounters with humans and habitations, has finally found a comfort zone in the deeper interiors of the bird sanctuary. This is because of the rich prey base with not only an abundant nilgai population, but also the hundreds of cows (who are productively useless) abandoned in the wild by their owners to fend for themselves and thereby wait for death. (Incidentally, Hindu religious centre Mathura is the mythical epicentre of the cow-belt, with legends of Krishna around cows, milk, butter and ghee, intrinsic to its memory and culture.)

In the past, inside the back of the sanctuary, where tourists don't go, through the solitary shadows, there was always a surreal sight waiting for adventure-seekers. Dead cows, their skeletons sprawled all over, across the zigzag landscape. In this eerie, tragic landscape, you could see dead cows all over, and living cows waiting to die. This was the dominant memory of these forests, where, suddenly, even the birds stop chirping. As if the graveyard in green has chosen to become speechless.

In this eerie terrain, the Ranthambhore tiger, T-7, has found an ephemeral, happy refuge. Precisely because of the rich prey base. Forest officials say, not less than 1,000 cows have been released in the forests by locals. They are all out there, chewing grass in peace. Suddenly aware that a predator has arrived amidst them.However, the cows have found relief. T-7 was tranquilised and shifted to Sariska, like four of his mates. There, he will have his own, huge, private territory. A new forest home. And a big prey base.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2011