By Dillip Kumar Pradhan
Bhubaneswar: It has been exactly one year since a wild tiger sneaked into Nanandankanan zoo and has been held in captivity since then. However, the decision of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to release the animal into the Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) has irked the zoo officials who are keen on retaining the big cat to boost captive breeding.
The tiger which had walked into Nanadankanan Zoo on April 29-30 night last year, later escaped before re-entering the zoo. The NTCA first decided to relocate the big cat to Satkosia reserve and then planned to release it in Similipal after Satkosia authorities expressed reluctance over the relocation plan.
The 8-year old male Royal Bengal tiger, named Nandan by the handlers, has since been lodged in his temporary home in Nandanakanan, an enclosure protected by 18–ft high iron grills. He has been keeping well and has got used to the feeding schedule of the zoo, the handlers maintained.
The zoo authorities alleged that even though the National Zoo Authority has given consent to use the tiger for breeding, the NTCA is apathetic towards the State’s biggest zoo and is not showing interest for the growth of tiger population in zoo. The NTCA has suggested that the big cat be released into the wild, preferably in Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR), where it can find a proper habitat.
“If such wild tigers are lodged in the different zoos in all over India, then what is the problem in keeping this one here?” Nandankanan assistant director Kamal Lochan Purohit questioned.
On the reports published earlier in media that NTCA termed Nandankanan’s plan to use the tiger for breeding as illegal, a senior official said while around 30 wild tigers are lodged in various zoos in the country among whom the city zoo has brought one from Bhopal on exchange basis, why this case would be treated differently. NTCA officials were not available for comments.
“Moreover, if the tiger was to relocate to forest, then why it has been lodged in zoo for the last one year?” Purohit rued asking “Can the animal now accustom itself in the forest after remaining in zoo captivity for so long. What about its wild instincts?”
When contacted, the STR authorities echoed similar views apprehending difficulties on the part of animal to accustom to life in the forest. “Yes, it could have been better if the tiger was released early. We have to work hard behind the animal as there is apprehension of the animal feeling awkward in the reserve after coming out of the zoo enclosure.” Anup Nayak, field director of STR, said.
On the possibilities of clashes with other male cats, Nayak added, “We have identified 2-3 prey-based sites .These have low density of other male tigers which would reduce the possibilities of clash.”
The process to release the large cat inside Similipal reserve will be started soon. “We have sent a letter two-three months back to NTCA seeking funds to purchase a radio collar which will monitor the movement of the animal. We expect a NTCA response soon and after getting the money, we will start the process to expedite its release”, PCCF (Wildlife) S. Srivastava said.
On the plan of keeping the animal in zoo for mating, he said the NTCA is the final decision-making body. As per its decision, the wild tiger cannot be kept in zoo and will be released.