|The photo shows the strip pattern of the tiger captured in 2012 and 2017. (Aditya Dhanwate)
Four years after wildlife observers said they lost track of a male tiger in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) at Chandrapur near Nagpur, an image of Ookhan was captured via a camera trap far away from his home early this month.
Eight-year-old Ookhan was spotted 80-100 km away near Pathri, a village close to Ghodazhari area, where safaris recently began. The area and falls under the Brahmapur division adjoining TATR.
The stripe pattern of Ookhan from a 2012 photograph matched with tiger’s image recorded by the camera trap on March 2 this year. Stripe patterns are unique to every tiger.
“It is a known fact that male cubs generally travel farther away from their mother’s territory to establish their own. This prevents inbreeding among tigers,” said Jignesh Patel, a naturalist, and who has been visiting TATR for six years. “It was assumed that Ookhan was killed by a dominant male tiger or was poached.”
Chief conservator of forests and field director GP Garad, however, refused to confirm that Ookhan was sighted.
“Who is saying this? I don’t know (about it), and won’t be able to confirm whether it was here (TATR) or not,” Garad told HT. “This was not recorded in Tadoba during my period. As a field director, I have no idea since I took charge in 2014. In 2012, there was no tiger missing, no poaching.”
Born in 2009 to Yeda Anna (also known as Crooked Tail) and mother Tara (or Nakkatti) in the Moharli range, Ookhan separated from his mother in 2011. Moving 15-20 km away, the two-year-old was regularly seen at Vasant Bhandara — his father’s territory. Vasant Bhandara was dominated by two older male tigers Katezhari (better known as Tyson) and Gabbar, making it difficult for Ookhan to establish his territory.
Local forest rangers and wildlife enthusiasts said Ookhan was last spotted in February 2013 while crossing the road near the Kumbhi tank in TATR.
“Tigers keep changing their territory. Tiger management is important; their population should not get reduced,” said Garad.
Ookhan’s 80 to 100 km journey, said Patel, is by no means an achievement since tigers have been recorded to travel more than 600 km.
“But the way TATR is set, surrounded by villages and fields on all sides, it is difficult for a tiger to survive outside the park. In the absence of the usual prey animals, they mostly have to kill livestock, which puts them on villagers’ radar, and there is a constant threat from poachers. For a tiger to survive cunningly against all odds is nothing short of a miracle,” said Patel, adding that Ookhan at eight years is in his prime. “This could mean that the area where he was sighted could be his territory. More photographs from the area are required to prove this.”