Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wildlife Conservation: India - Rescued Wild Tiger Alive and Well After "Conflict" with villagers

Photographs of an endangered Royal Bengal tiger, captured, radio-collared and relocated last year following conflict with people near a village in India's northern Assam province, confirms it has survived and is doing well, according to IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and partner WTI (Wildlife Trust of India).

In March 2010, the adult male tiger strayed into a house on a tea estate and attacked three people, killing two of them. The tiger, found hiding in a store room, was tranquilised and captured by IFAW-WTI vets assisting the Assam Forest Department.

Following a rare decision by officials to spare the tiger's life, he was taken to the IFAW Wildlife Rescue Center in Kaziranga, fitted with a radio collar and transported by truck some 280 miles (450 km) to Manas National Park. This was the first tiger released to the wild in this World Heritage Site, which is located in the foothills of the Himalayas in north east India along the border with Bhutan.

"Cases of human-tiger conflict, especially those resulting in human deaths, generally end with the animal being killed or consigned to life in captivity," said Ian Robinson, IFAW's Emergency Relief Director. "The really good news here is that there have been no reports of attacks on people by this tiger since its release back to the wild, which strengthens the case for rehabilitation of tigers that accidentally come into conflict with people."

Manas was selected as the most suitable area because IFAW teams are already monitoring previously released elephants and rhinos and are equipped to carry out the required post-release monitoring of the tiger.

However, the signal from the radio-collar went silent within a month of the release, so for a long period of time officials had no idea of the tiger's whereabouts or whether it had survived the translocation.

"After a long gap of about six months, we began receiving the signal again in mid-November 2010, and in mid-December the tiger was photographed by camera traps," said Ian Robinson, IFAW's Emergency Relief Director.

Human-tiger conflicts, which are often deadly for both people and tigers, are increasing, fueled by deforestation, habitat encroachment, and depletion of prey species. The wild tiger population has plummeted from about 100,000 in 1900 to as few as 3,000 wild tigers today, living in less than 10 percent of their historic range.

"A fear of further conflict with people and the 'homing' tendency of adult male tigers have raised doubts on wild tiger translocations as a successful mitigation effort. However, in this case, the authorities made the call in favour of giving another chance to this critically-endangered animal and it has paid off," Dr. Robinson said, adding that IFAW-WTI will continue to monitor and track the tiger.