6 days ago there were reasons to believe that there is a wild tiger roaming in Gujarat after a school teacher spotted one in Mahisagar district and captured a photo with his phone. The forest officials placed camera traps and began scouting for the tiger based on the claim. And now, a camera trap image has confirmed that Gujarat indeed is now home to a tiger, making it the only state in India to have lions, tiger and leopard.
Gujarat has over 600 Asiatic Lions but no tigers in the past 30 years. The last tiger seen in the state was 27 years ago when a single tiger was spotted in 1997, after which sadly, the animal was never seen and the state was excluded from the national tiger census of the country. At present, there are officially 18 states in India where tigers roam.
On 6th February 2019 however, Mahesh Mahera, a school teacher spotted a tiger crossing a road into the wilderness of Boriya village in Lunawada taluka in Mahisagar district of Gujarat. Mahesh was returning home from school in the evening when he spotted a tiger about 40 feet away from his car. He immediately clicked a photo using his mobile phone camera. Mahesh shared the picture with some of his friends which soon went viral and reached the phone of Akshay Saxena, the Principal Chief Conservator of the Forest (PCCF) in the state.
The forest officials quickly sprung into action post this latest claim. After ascertaining that the photo was authentic and had not been tampered with, the forest department began looking for telltale signs of the wild cat’s presence like scat, pugmark and any recent killing. An intensive search operation was also on to find the tiger including placing camera traps on crucial spots.
The efforts finally paid off Tuesday, when a tiger was indeed caught on camera trap. Forest minister Ganpat Vasava, confirmed the spotting and said the tiger might be 6-7 years old male.
The minister also added that the tiger might have come from one of the neighbouring states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh and they are now trying to confirm if it is only visiting on a resident cat.
In 1985, the last tiger of Gujarat died in a road accident in Dang. There were rumoured sightings later, most recently last year when some locals claimed to have seen tigers roaming in the same area, but forest officials negated these claims saying that people often confused hyenas with tigers when seen from a distance. Even so, last year a census was planned to ascertain the presence of the wild cat in Dang by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) as part of the nationwide tiger census carried by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to put the debate to rest.
The official census then, could not find any traces of tigers in Gujarat.
Is it is a tiger from Madhya Pradesh?
According to Chief Conservator of Forests, Vadodara Circle, S K Srivastava a tiger expert in their team recognised the photo clicked by Mahesh Mahera as that of a tiger from Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh that went missing last year based on the stripes pattern. No two tigers have the same stripe patterns and it is usually a good way to identify individuals. The officials say that it could be possible that the tiger seen was, in fact, the one from Madhya Pradesh that they assumed had made new territory in Rajasthan and might have been now returning to his old territory via Gujarat.
Tigers in Gujarat
Till the early 80s, there were tigers in Gujarat, mainly inhabiting the forests of Dang, Narmada and Sabarkantha districts. However, the numbers began to plummet from 1979 when only 7 were spotted in the state with 6 being in the Dang forest area. By 1989-90 official censuses showed only 13 tigers in the state. By 1992 national census, no tiger was sighted in Gujarat. A single tiger was seen in 1997 but never again.
According to Sanctuary Asia, Amit Khare, the honorary wildlife warden of Maharashtra believes tigers do live in the state. He was the first to notice tigers’ presence at Nandurbar on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border and presented a scat analysis report in November 2016. This report revealed that a male tiger had ventured up to the border of Gujarat, 3-4 km. from the Dang forest.
“I have seen tiger evidence while walking these forests two decades ago. This area straddling the Gujarat-Maharashtra border at Nasik used to be the world’s Western-most range of the tiger until it was declared locally extinct a decade ago,” says Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia in the article.
In January 2017 there were conflicting reports of tiger sighting in Gujarat. While some cops posted on the check post of Maharashtra-Gujarat border claimed to have seen a tiger entering Maharashtra from Gujarat, other experts said they never saw any tiger here despite many field trips.
Dang forest area and Mahisagar where the tiger was sighted now are about 400 km away from each other. While official census was conducted in Dang last year, there is very little possibility that any tiger could have ventured from Dang to reach Mahisagar. What could be important now is to carry out an intensive survey of the entire state especially the probable tiger habitats to confirm its presence in other areas.