Return Tiger T24 To The Wild!
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Two weeks ago, this 9-year old wild tiger, popularly known as "Ustad", ruled a territory the size of New York City in the forests of Ranthambore National Park. Today, he is pacing in a tiny zoo enclosure 300 miles away.
His crime? Being a wild animal.
Ustad, known officially as tiger T24, was the largest tiger at Ranthambore, and was known for being particularly bold around humans. Poachers and loggers didn't dare enter his forest out of fear for their lives. A local hotel manager claims that Ustad did the work of 100 forest guards.
Unfortunately, on May 9, forest guard Rampal Saini was fatally mauled by a tiger in the park. Details are not known, but it is presumed that the man was killed while squatting to relieve himself - a posture which often causes tigers to mistake humans for deer. The fact that Saini's body had not been dragged away suggests that the tiger did not intend to eat the man - but Ustad was sighted in the area an hour and a half later and quickly labeled a "man-eater", even though there was no other evidence linking him to the attack.
On Friday, Forest Minister Raj Kumar Rinwa promised that a decision on Ustad’s fate would be taken only after careful consideration by a four-member committee and approval from Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. But the Forestry Department broke its promise and violated all conservation procedures - some say at the request of the area's powerful hotel lobby. A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by India's National Tiger Conservation Authority states that "under no circumstances, a tiger should be eliminated by invoking the Wildlife [Protection] Act, 1972, if it is not habituated for causing human death".
Reserve officials did not seek permission from India's National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) before capturing Ustad, claiming that "We don't require permission. The chief wildlife warden can authorize the relocation."
So, at around 10:30 am on Saturday, before consulting with specialists, forestry officials tranquilized Ustad while he was eating a deer he had killed, even though big cat experts insist that the temperature was far too high to safely do so. It was only due to sheer luck that the tiger survived the tranquilizer, the blistering heat, and the 11-hour drive to the Sajjangarh Biological Park in Udaipur. But being taken from his forest home and imprisoned in a zoo has stressed Ustad so much that he refused to eat for days. Today, he endlessly paces in his zoo enclosure, surrounded by rotting meat.
Justifying their decision, the forest department officials said that Ustad had claimed four human lives in five years, and that it was dangerous to allow him to remain in the wild. But conservationists note that, out of the four fatalities, Ustad's involvement could only proven in one of them - and that humans, not tigers, are to blame for most attacks.
National Parks are intended to protect wildlife, but there is no regulation of tourist traffic in Ranthambore. Over 50 gas-powered vehicles carry around 2,000 tourists through the tigers' home on a daily basis. These tourists not only carry food with them, but unlike many other well-monitored sanctuaries, they make a lot of noise and often get far too close to tigers and their offspring. The shy predators then attack humans in defense of themselves, their territory, and their cubs.
And, because adjacent preserves haven't been managed for tigers, and corridors haven't been built to allow the tigers access to them, Ranthambore is home to twice as many tigers as it has room for. This causes the cats to be "pushed out", where they come into conflict with people. The best way to reduce human-tiger conflict is to better manage Ranthambore and adjacent sanctuaries - not to punish the tigers for being tigers. Even A. C. Chaubey, the former chief wildlife warden, says that "without observing the tiger's behaviour, it should not be sent in exile and deprived of its natural habitat."
If Ustad is not released back into the wild soon, he will die in a cage. Sign this petition to urge the Forestry Department to abide by proper conservation procedures and return the King of Ranthambore to the wild.
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