A TIGER TALE OF LOVE: MUKUNDRA HILLS

“LOVE may have the strongest arms, but it can still fall short of an embrace.” – Unknown

Love, an emotion that still transcends any scientific reasoning and keeps surprising us. An emotion not just limited to us humans, but seen all around nature. From swans pairing for life to hornbills dying at the death of it’s partner, there are multiple instances of love and bonding seen even amongst animals.

But this tale ,as unique as it may sound , is the love story of two Tigers, never seen or heard before.

India is the last stronghold for the TIGER. With a world population of only 3800 tigers left in the wild, the jungles of our subcontinent is home to 78% of them, the last count as in 2018 being 2967 . With successful conservation efforts in states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Assam and Uttarakhand, the tiger population is fortunately increasing. But with growing numbers of these big cats, come increasing cases of human animal conflicts. Rapid decline of the buffer corridors to these jungles pose a threat to the wandering tigers as they come in contact with villagers or attack grazing cattle for an easy meal. Often these conflicts result in casualties on both sides, with farmers poisoning waterholes to take revenge for their stolen/dead cattle.

Rajasthan : The Tiger fortress

Rajasthan has been the tiger stronghold since the early days. The Ranthambore fort, used by the Rajputs and British viceroys as hunting grounds, killing thousands of tigers for sport and the prized hide for a trophy, is now the prime home to the Queens tigresses of Ranthambore, namely Machli and her lineage of impressive royal bengal tigers.

With tiger population rising in the Ranthambore National Park, efforts are being made to revive the erstwhile tiger reserves of Sariska National Park and find new habitat in the upcoming MUKUNDRA HILLS TIGER RESERVE.

This is where the tale of our lovebirds set afoot.

Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve is unfurled across four districts – Kota, Bundi, Chittorgarh and Jhalawar covering an area of 759 sq km in Hadoti region of Rajasthan. The core area of the new tiger reserve is around 417 sq km and buffering zone covers around 343 sq km.

Earlier known as Mukundra Hills (Darrah) National Park, it is a combination of three wildlife sanctuaries namely Darrah wildlife sanctuary, Chambal wildlife sanctuary and Jaswant Sagar wildlife sanctuary.

Popularly known as Darrah wildlife Sanctuary, this haven is just 50 km away from Kota. The name ‘Darrah’ means ‘pass’ in the local language that was derived by the localities as this place served as a pass during the wars by Marathas, Rajput’s and British. The beautiful park and scenic beauty are located between the mountains of Mukundra and Gagrola . Along the boundaries of the valley, four mystic rivers flow namely Ramzan, Ahu, Kali, and Chambal

The Chambal valley has been romanticized by India’s film industry , telling tales of the exploits of the region’s dacoits in much the same way Hollywood idolizes the gunslingers of the Old West.

But in truth, organized violence of the Chambal has largely faded. The bad men are now mostly dead or doddering. By the early 2000’s, massive police operations, the use of helicopters, and inexorable road building left the lawless with no place to flee.

Once home to exotic species like the Asiatic Cheetahs, the tiger reserve was a hunting preserve which belonged to Maharaja of Kota, Sir Umed Singh II and later succeeded by his son Maharaja Bhim Singh II. Often helping the British viceroys on hunting expeditions , Bhim Singh was a sharp shooter and was Captain of the Indian shooting team at the Singapore Shooting Championships in 1969, at the 1976 Summer Olympics and at the 1978 Asian Games. Today this vast stretch of hillocks and grasslands is home to some of India’s last remaining Gazelles or chinkaras.

THE STORY OF THE NEW TIGER RESERVE

Darrah was declared a (Protected area) wildlife sanctuary in 1955. The Darrah wildlife sanctuary was declared as Mukundra Hills National Park in 2004.

The park got the nod from National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in 2013 and the state (Rajasthan) bagged its third tiger reserve in the form of the Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve.

The Stage is set:

In October 2017, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) gave in-principle permission for the re-introduction of Tigers into the reserve from Ranthambore National Park.

MT1 aka T-91 [Alphonso / Mirza]

MT1 aka Alphonso

The first to be re-located was T91 [ Alphonso / Mirza]. T-91 is from the fourth litter of Tigress T-30 aka Husn-Ara of Ranthambore. She gave birth to her fourth and last litter of one male and one female cub, fathered by T-3. Little is known about T-91 because her mother, T-30 spent most of her time out of the tourism area. After the death of his mother, T-91 set off to establish his own territory. Male tigers wander for miles in search of their territory , rich in prey as well as avoiding conflicts with other males. T-91 went out from Ranthambhore and reached Ramgarh Vishdhari Wildlife Sanctuary, Bundi. The Forest Department tranquilized it and shifted it to Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve in April 2018. He came to be known as MT-1 , the first tiger in the new reserve.

To initiate re-population of tigers, a female was introduced into the reserve in December of 2018.

MT2 aka T-106 Sultana

Cub T-106 with Noor (Mother). Source: Ranthamboreguides.com

Owing her name to the Sultanpur area of Ranthambore national park where this tigress used to be found, she was the daughter of T-39 [Noor] from her third litter , fathered by T-57 [ Shingst]. First seen in March 2016 at the Sultanpur area, she is also related to the lineage of the famous tigress Machli. Her Mom T-39 was born to Tigress T-13 of Ranthambore, the sister of Tigress Machli (T-16) .

Two and a half years later she was tranquilized on 18th December 2018, and made her journey to her new home, the Mukundra Hills Tiger reserve.

Renamed as MT-2, she was kept in a 26 hectare enclosure at the new reserve to be monitored at her new home. Now home to the new formed couple of Mukundra Hills , the forest officials rejoiced on 2nd June 2020 as MT-2 was spotted with two cubs, but the story had only begun.

ENTER MT3 aka T-98 [ Ranjha/ The lover boy ]

Source: Ranthamborenationalpark.com

Like the twist in tale of a bollywood script, this tiger got everyone in the wildlife fraternity bewildered when he embarked on a journey of 150kms in search of his lover.

The tiger, known as T-98 in Ranthambore, and MT-3 in Mukundra Tiger Reserve, was born to the tigress T-60 and tiger T-57, along with 2 siblings. The first time he was seen was in March 2016.

T-98 possessed a free and adventurous spirit from his early teenage years. It wasn’t long before he fell in love with the tigress MT-2, as both of them inhabited the same sultanpur area in Ranthambore National Park. 

With the forest officials having played God relocating his love interest to Mukundra Hills, T-98 had grown quite aggressive, and it was in one of these moments of aggression that he attacked a woman who had ventured into the forest to collect firewood. 

Unable to bear the separation with his lover, T-98, set off on a long and arduous journey spanning 150 kilometers. He crossed three districts, and the River Kali Sindh, eager to rejoin his mate. The journey, as well as the peculiar behaviour exhibited by the tiger, left everyone surprised.

The authorities have been unable to comprehend how he made his way to the exact spot where the tigress had been relocated. How he managed to reach right outside the enclosure where MT2 was being held is another mystery. Such tiger behaviour has never been documented.

After his arrival at Mukundra, T-98 was renamed MT-3. The forest department, aware that he posed a danger to MT-1, kept him enclosed as a safety measure. MT-3 and MT-1 were caught fighting across a wire fence. Even though the fence protected them from injuring each other, the anger and heartbreak of MT-3 was palpable. Not all love tales have a happy ending, and the tale of T-98 was certainly not a happy one.

Check these videos of the fight between the two males

MT-2, the tigress for whom he had undertaken such a long journey, had already paired with MT-1 , first mating and then producing cubs. His epic journey, although dare-devilish, had left him brokenhearted. 

What happened next left everyone sad and the conservation program hanging by the thread.

MT-3 was found injured in close proximity to the water point in Mashalpura forest area. Probably injured by a Neelgai [ antelope] during a hunt he was found limping with injuries on his leg. The monitoring of the tiger was subsequently intensified, and a pet was offered to it, which it consumed with no problems whatsoever.

However, since T-98 showed no improvement in his limp, a special team was called upon to tranquilise it. But before they could put that plan into effect, he was dead. The postmortem revealed that he was suffering from Bovine Tuberculosis, cardiac shock & lung infection.

According to the forest department, T-98 had turned anaemic, with large amounts of fat deposited in his body, leading to the blockage of heart chambers along with severe lung infection. That ultimately led to his death.

MT-3 passed away on 23rd July 2020 , 4 years of age ,leaving a legacy of unrequited love, an event rarely seen in the big cats.

Even more alarmingly, the radio collar on MT2 female went unresponsive on 29th July 2020. After a search for 3 days the forest official found the decomposed body of MT2 in the forest. 10 days after the death of her lover, MT2 had passed away in a territorial fight as was revealed in an autopsy, with one of her cubs missing ,as the forest officials fought against time to save the other cub.

But who killed MT2 ?

THE FINAL PIECE OF THE PUZZLE

On 12th April 2019, Mukundra Hills Tiger reserve was introduced to another grand-daughter of Machli,

T83 aka Lightning.

Daughter to the ruling Queen and iconic tigress of Ranthambore , T-19 [ Krishna], the story of her childhood has been documented in the Nat Geo Documentary Clash of Tigers. Perhaps the most innocent tigress of ranthambore, she spent her childhood with mother, Krishna, sister (T-84 Arrowhead) and brother (T-85 Pacman) at zone no.2, 3 4 and 5 of the forest. After becoming a sub adult, she started to spend most of her time in zone no. 3 and 4. But her timid nature soon got her into trouble as her own brother T-85 Pacman pushed her out to the periphery of the park . She was often seen in the Amma Ghati area.

Lighting was spotted outside the park near hotels early morning on 19 October, 2016 when she had killed a Neelgai, and was later rescued from a well that she had fallen into on 14th November of the same year.

With her movements increasing around the periphery, an area densely populated with hotels etc, the forest officials decided to relocate her to the Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve on 12th April 2019. She is now known as MT4.

THE RISE OF THE NEW QUEEN

Tigers are known to fight and kill other tigers for territory or mating rights. Sometimes male tigers kill other cubs to bring the female to oestrus and give better chance of survival to his lineage. Could it be that MT-2 died in a fight with MT-4? Did Lightning kill her to become the new queen of Mukundra ?

The answer to what happened in Mukundra will remain a mystery along with the list of secrets of the chambal valley.

However as Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest would justify, unknown to the forest officials, camera traps have recently spotted MT-4 , Lightning with cubs of her own. Aged around 3-4 months it seems Lightning gave birth to 2 cubs in May 2020.

As the tale of 2 lovers , Ranjha [ MT-3 ] and Sultana [ MT-2] ends in sorrow, a new story rises as Mirza [ MT-1] and Lightning [ MT-4] with their cubs take the throne and responsibility of tiger conservation in the third and newest tiger reserve of Rajasthan .

The story of the Chambal Valley continues…