Friday, January 28, 2011

A tiger with female traits

Neha Shukla, TNN, Jan 29, 2011, 04.42am IST

LUCKNOW: The man-eater tiger at the Corbett National Park, which was shot down on Thursday was a rare specimen. It was a tiger with 'female characteristics'.

The big cat had deformity in both its hind claws. The pugmark impressions made the claws look like that of a tigress. No wonder, forest officers maintained that it was a tigress, which had been killing and eating men in the vicinity of the national park since November. "Whatever controversy has risen could be because of this assumption of us," said UC Tiwari, warden of Corbett National Park.

The tiger killed by Uttarakhand forest department on Thursday was old, slightly more than 9-years of age. The postmortem of the carcass on Friday found human flesh in its stomach. Ramnagar forest officers had shot down a tiger after the mutilated remains of 27-year old Puran Chand were recovered from Sunderkhal area of Ramnagar. The man was the sixth victim of a tiger in the area in last three months. But, barely a day after the tiger was killed, voices from certain quarters allege that forest officers had shot down the wrong feline.

When asked if forest department has erred, RK Mishra, director, Corbett national park said, "I don't think so. We did not confirm ever that it was a tigress behind the killings." The officer said that the department has the biggest evidence to prove that it has shot down the right tiger. "The tiger was shot down, while it was close to its prey," said Mishra. On the night of January 11, when officers had shot at the big cat, then too it had returned to its prey (killed in the morning) and was eating it. Secondly, man-eaters get elusive and this one was behaving in the exact manner. Sunderkhal area has three other pairs of big cat.

"All the human killings have taken place within a distance of one kilometre, which shows that it was the same tiger, which struck on Wednesday and before," said the director. The first killing took place in Corbett on November 12. "We got the first pugmarks then. But the area has at least 200 people roaming around it all the time and it is not possible to get clear pugmarks," he said.

Explaining the `established protocol of wildlife', Corbett officers said that there are two ways to differentiate between a male and a female tiger. "We differentiate on the basis of genitals and if we have not seen the big cat, it is on the basis of pugmarks," said Tiwari. The pugmark identification is an indirect evidence. "In this case, the big cat was not spotted ever and hence indirect evidence was used," he said.

In case of tigers, pugmarks of only the hind legs are obtained. "This tiger had pointed nails in its hind claws," said Mishra. Also when lines are drawn around the pugmark impression of females, lines form a rectangular shape whereas in case of males, lines form a square shape. "For this tiger we got a pugmark impression of 13x10 cms for hind claws, looking like a pugmark impression of a female," said the park warden. The female's toes are slender and elongated while that of males are oval.

The tiger was shot down at least 15 to 20 metres away from where it had killed the man on Wednesday. It did not leave the area and was guarding the prey. "The big cat was otherwise healthy," said Tiwari. Even its deformity was not of the order that could have disturbed its normal life or made it a man-eater.

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