Tiger’s 1,300-km walk over six months strains population theory

Vivek Deshpande
T1C1 travelled between two Maharashtra sanctuaries. File

In what may be the longest trek by a tiger in India, a sub-adult of the species reached Dnyanganga Wildlife Sanctuary in Buldhana district of Maharashtra on Sunday, walking 1,300 km over six months, from Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Yavatmal district.

What intrigues conservationists is that T1C1 appears to not have stopped anywhere for more than four-five days, and that too only when he made a kill, mostly of cattle. Maharashtra Chief Wildlife Warden Nitin Kakodkar said the tiger didn’t travel in a linear fashion but moved back and fourth several times, over farmlands, water bodies and highways, thus adding hundreds of kilometres to its journey.

While experts think the pattern shows search for a mate, they believe it also indicates that the tiger protection policy needs to be recalibrated.

Wildlife scientists and managers generally follow the popular “source and sink” population theory of a decade ago — it was believed that beyond the protected core tiger areas or source populations, a dispersing tiger population was bound to be a “sink” population, or not guaranteed to survive.

However, T1C1’s journey, as well as growing tiger numbers in non-protected forests like Brahmapuri in Chandrapur district, shows a rethink may be needed. Bilal Habib, senior biologist with the Wildlife Institute of India, said this is the longest a tiger is known to have walked anywhere in India. “We know this because T1C1 is radio-collared,” Habib pointed out, adding, “It’s clear that with shrinking space, we need to redraft policy to ensure safety of tigers like T1C1.”

T1C1 is Dnyanganga’s first tiger.

It was born to a resident tigress in Tipeshwar Sanctuary in late 2016, one of two male siblings. It was radio-collared in February under a project called ‘Studying Dispersal Pattern of Tigers in the Eastern Vidarbha Landscape of Maharashtra’, headed by Habib. T1C1 left the sanctuary in June.

Habib said the fact that T1C1 had made its way to a protected area made his future secure. “A tiger needs three things to become stable at any place — space, food and mate. Dnyanganga has space and enough preybase, though if T1C1 doesn’t find a mate, it might keep walking further.”

Melghat Tiger Reserve Field Director Srinivas Reddy confirmed, “T1C1 is the first tiger to arrive in Dnyanganga. So he has enough space and preybase.”

Moving out of Tipeshwar in June, T1C1 entered Adilabad in Telangana via Pandharkawda, spent a considerable time across inter-state forests between Adilabad and Nanded divisions during August and September, and then walked into the Painganga Sanctuary. In October, it went to Isapur Sanctuary, also in Yavatmal, before entering Hingoli district of Marathwada, which recorded its first tiger sighting in 40 years.

“There, it was involved in a conflict with humans, when he attacked a group of men, injuring one. That was the only instance of conflict in his journey,” said Pench Tiger Reserve Field Director Ravikiran Govekar, who supervises Tipeshwar.

From there, T1C1 went to Washim, Akola and finally Buldhana.

Earlier a sub-adult tiger had walked over 500 km from Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station in Maharashtra, on whose premises it grew up, to Sarni Power Station in Madhya Pradesh, killing two persons along the way and surviving mostly on cattle, like T1C1.

“The dispersal of tigers across landscapes indicates that tigers need more space and may have to cover longer distances and cross human-dominated non-forested landscapes in pursuit of new territories and mate much beyond our traditional understanding,” said Govekar.