Warning: Graphic images
8th May 2015 – Ranthambhore national park
I, Aditya Singh, was on a safari in Ranthambhore national park with my friend Dharmendra Khandal of Tiger Watch. At around 18:05 hours we were parked near a lake when we heard a wireless message in a Forest Department jeep that was parked next to us, about a tiger attacking a forest guard near the “barrier” (very close to the main gate of the park). We rushed towards the location and when we reached there, we were told that it was Forest Guard Rampal Saini who was attacked and killed by a tiger (see picture below which was taken by one of the eye witnesses). His had been taken to the hospital by other forest guards who were with him but was declared dead on arrival.
A few minutes after we reached there Dharmendra spoke to the Deputy Field Director, who was on his way back from Jaipur after attending a meeting of the State Board of Wildlife. He told us to wait there for ACF Daulat Singh to reach and we did not have to wait long. Dharmendra, a few forest guards and I jumped into the ACF’s jeep and we went out to search for the tiger to identify the individual. In the meantime the ACF, who has a near lifetime of experience in handling man animal conflict, had evacuated the area and asked a few other Forest Department vehicle to park strategically to search for the tiger. While we were looking around for the tiger, we got a message from one of the Forest vehicles that the tiger had just been seen where the guard was killed. We rushed back and found T 24 or Ustaad standing over the same spot where the guard was killed. We found him sniffing the entire area and then looking for the body (see picture below). The tiger was in an aggressive mood and charged at the one of the Forest Department vehicles. After searching for the body for some time the tiger gave up and slowly started walking towards the Singhdwar gate, all the while marking his territory.
We followed in the ACF’s jeep and just as we crossed the Misradhara gate, Dharmendra fell down from the jeep as the driver braked hard to stop going over a big rock. The tiger instantly turned around and started coming towards our vehicle in a manner that could be only be explained as stalking. Dharmendra jumped back in the jeep just before the driver reversed back and the tiger sniffed the area where Dharmendra had fallen down. Around 19:20 hours the tiger disappeared in the woods heading towards the Sultanpur area.
On our way out after the tiger had disappeared into the forest in the dark, we learnt that there were three forest guards and two others who saw T 24 when he was still killing the forest guard. One of them was in a car and he drove the car almost up to the point where the tiger was killing the guard, while honking and revving the engine to scare the tiger off the guard’s body. After pushing the tiger off the body they dragged the body to the main road, stopped a tourist vehicle and took the body to the hospital where he was declared dead on arrival.
By the time I got back to my residence social media had exploded with conspiracy theories based on rumors. I saw social media posts and media reports that were filed within a few minutes of the attack claiming that a forest guard had gone “to urinate deep in the forest and was attacked in self defense by a tiger called Sultan (T 24’s sub adult son)”. It is a fact that till 19:30 PM in the night, besides a handful of people who were following T 24 – people who were not in any communication network besides the Forest Department’s internal wireless – no one knew what really had happened. Even national media were filing news reports that were based on some information and lot of “uneducated” guesses.
The next day the Forest Minister of Rajasthan visited the dead guard’s family in his village Sherpur with a generous compensation package and stated “on camera” that this tiger T 24 will be moved out of here very soon. Apparently the State Board of Wildlife of Rajasthan, chaired by the Chief Minister, was in a meeting when this attack took place. T 24 was “almost” relocated in October 2012 when he had killed his third victim but he was given a “last chance”. Soon after there was a team of forest guards in a truck carrying a metal cage stationed at the main gate of Ranthambhore.
On the 9th May 2015 I wrote a report on what happened after the attack on Rampal the previous evening and sent a copy of it to a lot of people, including Bittu Sehgal, the editor of Sanctuary magazine who posted this on his magazines facebook page. A small group of people who I had blocked from my digital life long back took off on that post. A copy of that post is on my Facebook timeline and on the Sanctuary Asia Facebook page. It’s a hilariously good read, if you have the time to go into it.
A week later T 24 was shifted to an enclosure in Udaipur district. All through this time there was no “social media” statements from the Forest Department (they do not have a social media presence) and this silence added to the rumor mills and the crazy theories going around. Two national dailies came out with “proof” that this was the handwork of the “powerful tourism lobby” and hotels became easy linchpins. Even now I get posts on social media saying that I personally used my connections because of my hotel in Ranthambhore to shift T 24 out of here. Wow. I wish I did have connections like that 🙂
Anyways it was said (and is still being said) that the powerful tourism lobby mainly comprising of me, Balendu Singh, Jaisal Singh (all three of us own a hotel in Ranthambhore and visit the park regularly) and Dharmendra Khandal (who has nothing to do with tourism) moved T 24 for personal profit. On the contrary, it does not take a great genius to work out that tourism might be negatively affected every time a tiger is removed from the reserve.
Did “the powerful tourism lobby” get T 24 taken out for “profit”?
When I first read this angle in a national daily written by a journalist I know, I could not believe it. How daft could this person, and those who agree with him, be?
It’s very obvious that tourism here thrives on the tigers that are seen in the tourism zone. T 24 was one of the stars of this zone, a tiger that was often seen before entering the reserve on a safari. He had this aura of a “man eater” and was a tourist favorite. We would make far more money with him here than without him. So how does the tourism lobby profit from T 24’s removal. Many photographers were regularly posting T 24’s pictures on social media with the comment that this tiger has killed and eaten three people, as it added to their pictures “like” value. Now many of those same people are claiming that this tiger never killed nor ate anyone.
One newspaper came out with the theory that hotels were scared that this tiger might kill their tourists so they worked to move out T 24. I am sure the author of this news has never ever been on a tiger safari. Tiger just do not attack vehicles as they see the vehicle and the people inside as one entity. You are perfectly safe as long as you are inside the vehicle. That is why big cats get so close to jeeps and this is why tourists, guides and tourist drivers are never ever under any threat.
Besides there is no tourism lobby in Ranthambhore. We don’t even have a hotel association or rather shall I say we have 10 dead associations. For the 18 years that I have been living here there has never been an event where all hotel owners have met up. Most of us do not even know each other.
So how does the tourism lobby profit from the removal of a very popular and easy to find tiger? What does the local forest department gain by shifting one of their “popular” tiger? Common sense apparently is not very common.
So where did this “Sultan killed the guard in self defense” theory originate?
In T 24’s case almost all the rumors originated from two or three sources in Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur and Delhi. To show that they know “Ranthambhore like the back of their hands” they said that it was Sultan who killed the guard. They assumed that since Sultan, T 24 and T 39 (Sultan’s mother) were the only tigers that went till the barrier, it must have been Sultan. Sultan for about 2-3 months before this incident used to stay at the edge of the reserve behind Sherpur village, close to the place where this incident happened. What these people did not know was that Sultan had been “missing” for some time when this incident took place. Star male (T 28) who is right now one of the most powerful males in the reserve has started expanding his territory towards the area where Sultan used to hang around and as a result Sultan had left the area for God knows where. We still do not know where Sultan is. Apparently a lot of people know Ranthambhore like the back of their hands. By the time the real story became known the lie had already been converted to news.
Why did the media and social media get their facts so wrong?
The first reports filed by almost all the newspapers were not based on any hard facts, as they just did not get any details till their deadline. Newspapers have to file their stories by a certain time in the night. All they got were bit and pieces of the story, some rumors and gossip from “their unnamed sources” so they went with whatever they got, which was not the whole truth. So a mix of reality, lies and rumors made it to the news on the 9th May, when Rampal’s attack was first reported. These media reports fueled social media rumors, which in turn made it to the news.
Indian Express corrected their views on the 10th May but Times of India and Hindustan Times actually went with rumours. These two newspapers in fact changed their tone 4 or 5 days after the attack, when they started doubting if T 24 had ever attacked any human. Till then they were clearly mentioning that T 24 had killed three people before. From attacks in humans these became “alleged” attacks on humans. When T 24 was shifted on the 16th May, these two newspapers started to target the “tourism lobby” (as they called it).
How did the tourism lobby angle come up? Absolutely no idea but on hindsight I think that media and social media desperately needed a scapegoat to blame and tourism is easy picking. Most of the “news pieces” in the media and social media, were calling the gospel truth was based on statements made by “unnamed official sources” and on the day that T 24 was shifted both these newspapers had carried stories that T 24 will not be shifted according to their “high level source”. So on the morning of the 16th May 2015, these papers carried stories telling us that T 24 was not being shifted and three hours later T 24 was shifted. Suddenly I actually start doubting if they ever even had a source. They were also quoting a lot of retired forest officers as experts though the same officers had in the past attacks expressed views that were radically different. Of course they were in service then 🙂
The reporting by some media houses on this case was seriously irresponsible and based on little credible information. Besides many media houses kept changing their tone on almost a daily basis. Just go to the archives of one of the national dailies and read the news on T 24 from the 9th May till the end of May. You will realize how T 24 who till the 11th May was a tiger that had killed four people, after 12th May became a tiger that had “allegedly” killed four people and after 16th May became a tiger that was shifted by the “corrupt forest officers and tourism lobby”. The whole argument in the media and social media became vulgar and facts were thrown out of the window. It soon became a “free for all” slanging match with little logic or facts behind it. So we heard about a “blood test that proved that T 24 was not a man-eater” (I never knew that blood test could prove what he had eaten weeks or years ago), we heard of a committee that was formed by the Rajasthan’s Forest Minister to look into the T 24 affair (a committee that the local Forest Department has never heard of even now), we heard theories that “T 24 killed people in self defense because he though that his family is being threatened” (and all this while I thought that the tigers were solitary particularly males). So T 24 attacked people from behind and killed them with a single bite on the neck, then dragged the body away and then ate the body – all in self-defense. Why did he have to eat up the body in self-defense?
In the social media “save T 24” was a vey easy thing to latch on to. It was pizza delivered on your tabletop and all you had to do was post some strong comments and presto you became a tiger conservationist. The ruder and cruder your comments, the bigger your profile got as a tiger warrior. The fact that your comments do not make sense at all did not matter. Just shout, it does not matter what you are shouting. So people with no experience of wild tigers suddenly became experts and social media activists branded the really experienced people like Ullas Karanth, Valmik Thapar, Mahendra Vyas, Alan Rabinowitz as idiots who did not know anything. So now we know that Alan or Ullas or Valmik may have spent more than half their lives around tigers and have written many books on tigers, their behavior and conservation do not know as much about tigers as the social media tiger activist. Some of them were very proudly proclaiming that they have been spending two weeks every year in the forest for the last three years. So social media activists from Nagpur who were surprisingly silent when nearly 20 (or more) big cats were either killed or made captive in Tadoba, in the last five years as suspected man eaters were lighting candles for T 24 – a proven man eater. Similarly scenes were enacted in Mysore and Bangalore but the same players were silent when a tiger was shot dead for being a man-eater in Chikmanglur recently. Similar recent killing of man-eating tigers from Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala were ignored.
Why did T 24 attract so much attention when man other tigers have been legally shot dead for far lesser crimes in almost all parts of India recently. One big difference between T 24 and other tigers that were taken out for being man-eaters was that T 24 is a famous tiger. He is what I call “super tiger” – one of the 50 odd tigers in different reserves in India that people have regularly photographed and written about. Unlike tigers of the non-tourism zone this guy had a name, an aura of a man killer, social media pages and so on. It was easy to ride the T 24 ban wagon as compared to a nameless tiger. Ironically T 24 became a “super tiger” because he had killed people.
Of course there was a lot of back door support mostly from Jaipur in terms of money, rumors, planted stories and so on. Do you know how much posters and hoardings in big cities cost? Logistically it was nicely managed and the utter silence from the Rajasthan Forest Department added to the rumor mill. Did you ever wonder why a single conservationist nor a wildlife researcher did not add their support to “Save T24” campaign (if I may call it that)?
You really want to know what “really happened” then read on – its a long read. Between three or four of us here in Ranthambhore we have ample clinching evidence to substantiate in any court of law what ever I have mentioned below. This is evidence collected since 2010 when T 24 killed his first victim. None of us work for the Forest Department and we have got this stuff because one or more of us were there when each one of the attacks happened.
9 fatal attacks since 1986
Ranthambhore has had a high density of human population for a very long time and people have lived here for many centuries with tigers in adjoining forested areas. Many villages have been relocated outside the park in recent years. Tigers have and do attack people on foot occasionally but these attacks were rarely fatal. The first fatal attack was on a child in 1986 and then there was a fatal attack in 2005. Since 2010, tigers in the park, mostly at the edges, have killed seven more people. I believe that the number of attacks went up probably for two reasons below, though I have no evidence to support it:
1. The number of tigers present in the park are at its highest ever but for some reasons the sex ratio appears to be skewed – over 50% of the tigers are males, which is far too many compared to females.
2. Too many young males have not established their territories as yet and these guys have been pushed to the edge of the reserve or out of the reserve. A few older males have also been shifted to the edge of the reserve by younger stronger males.
First fatal attack on a child in 1986 on the main road to the fort.
Second fatal attack in 2005 near Bhadlav.
Seven fatal attacks since 2010 by four different tigers with T 24 killing “at least” four people.
Differences between these nine attacks.
There have been nine fatal attacks in Ranthambhore since it was declared a Project Tiger reserve. In five of the nine cases the victim’s death was not due to a fatal bite on the neck, the way tiger’s usually kill their prey. However in all the four cases of T 24’s fatal kill, death was instantaneous due to a fatal bite in the neck. T 24 dragged three of his four victim’s body, something that no other tiger did.
When big cats attack in aggression or in self-defence they hit out with their front paws (taking swipes) with all the four claws out like the attack in the picture below on a fine forest officer Daulat Singh. Such hits come with a lot of force and often people attacked do not survive the injuries. In T 24’s attacks there were hardly any injuries besides injuries sustained when the tiger grabbed the head from behind and delivered a death bit to the neck. This is how they kill prey and this in not how they attack in self-defence. This is definitely not normal behaviour.
This is the scary part about T 24. Its not how many or who all he killed. It’s more about how he killed them. He was killing people like he would kill his prey – this is definitely not normal. That is why the locals had a problem with just this one tiger and not the other tigers in the reserve that have killed or badly mauled people.
Was T 24 a man-eating tiger?
What is the definition of man-eating ? The dictionary defines man-eater as an animal that feeds on human flesh, while Wikipedia terms it as “Man-eater is a colloquial term for an animal that preys upon humans. This does not include scavenging. Although human beings can be attacked by many kinds of animals, man-eaters are those that have incorporated human flesh into their usual diet.”
There is absolutely no doubt about the fact that T 24 did kill four people and he ate up his first two victims. The only reason that he could not eat his third and fourth victim was because he was not given the chance to do so. The rescue team was there instantly. He did prepare his third victim for eating – he dragged the body away from the forest track into bushes and then cleaned up the blood on the neck of the body. There are pictures of bodies that have been consumed, pictures of T 24 with the bodies, doctor’s reports and so on. In all these four cases the tigers that had attacked and killed people was positively identified as T 24. In fact the Public Interest Litigation that was filed in various courts by activists lost out in every court that it went to mainly because the Forest department has clinching evidence to prove that T 24 had killed “at least” four people and devoured two of them. Foolproof evidence of even one such human kill was enough to prove in a court that T 24 was a man killer and man-eater. At the same time the activist’s case did not have any ground to stand on. Look at the picture above and tell me if the body has been eaten or not?
A tiger that kills people and then eats their body is by any definition a man-eater. We did hear arguments bringing out the fact that this tiger had “only killed four people” and if he was a man-eater then he should be killing many more. A man-eating tiger is one that kills and eats human being. It does not matter if the tiger does this a hundred times or just once. Just once is more than enough to call him a man-eater and T 24 had done it at least four times.
Did T 24 kill four people?
It has been questioned whether there is enough evidence that T 24 killed all four. Yes there is more than enough evidence that T 24 killed “at least” four people.
First attack – The tiger was radio collared and the receiver got strong signals that exactly pin pointed the tiger’s location. The radio collar monitoring was being done by a scientist from the Wildlife Institute of India, who was conducting his telemetry research on tigers. After that the tiger was sighted for over half an hour that it took to push the tiger and retrieve the body. I had seen the tiger with Ghamandi’s body before the body was recovered. Radio signals and visual sighting by the forest officials and others positively identified the tiger. Ghamandi Saini (Mali) was killed at the base of a hill and was dragged over 500 meters to the top of hill. Tiger tracks and drag marks were tracked from the spot where the actual attack happened.
Second attack – Ashfaq’s body was dragged about 100 meters from where the attack took place. It took a large team of about 150 villagers and forest officials, over six hours in the night, to push the tiger away from the body that he was eating and retrieve parts of the body. That night the tiger was seen by many people including forest officials and positively identified as T 24. The next day a team of forest officials retrieved the rest of the fragmented body and tracked the pugmarks of the tiger from that spot till they found the tiger resting under a shade. The tiger was again positively identified as T 24. We, personally, have the least amount of evidence for this attack as it was on the night of Holi and I was busy with friends, while Dharmendra Khandal was out of town.
Third attack – In Gheesu Singh’s case a team of forest officials were present very close to the spot and a large team reached the spot where the tigers was still sitting on top of the body. The tiger was again positively identified as T 24. The body was retrieved after lot of effort. There are many video clips and still pictures of the incident. I was not there but Dharmendra Khandal and a few other friends were there and they took lots of videos of the whole operation.
Forth attack – At least four people, three of them forest guards saw T 24 when he was still killing the forest guard. One of them was in a car and he drove the car almost up to the point where the tiger was killing the guard, while honking and revving the engine to scare the tiger off the guard’s body. A large team of many forest officials, headed by one of Rajasthan’s most experienced Forest officer ACF Daulat Singh, reached the spot within minutes. A few forest official were already present there. There were four vehicles that were strategically parked in four corners. None of these vehicles saw any tiger entering or leaving the cordoned of area. Half an hour later T 24 was seen coming out from behind a wall to reach the exact spot where the attack took place. He had never left the area after the attack. He was photographed and positively identified as T 24. Both Dharmendra and I were there on the scene within half an hour of the attack.
Did he consume the people killed?
First attack – Dragged the body for 500 meters and then ate parts of arm, shoulders, hips and thighs. It took over half an hour for a large team to retrieve the body. See picture below, which clearly shows a partly consumed human body.
Second attack – The body was dragged about 100 meters from the spot where the attack took place and large parts (almost the entire body) was eaten. The body was totally fragmented scattered body parts were retrieved after an effort of 6 hours.
Third attack – Did not eat the body presumably due to the presence of a large number of people who were close to the attack and vehicles that reached there almost immediately. The body was dragged about 15 meters off the main track where the guard was killed. When a team of forest officials reached there, within minutes of the incident, in a vehicle, the tiger was sitting next to the body and licking the canine wounds on the neck of the body. It took a lot of effort to retrieve the body.
Forth attack – Did not eat the body presumably due to the swift arrival of people at the scene of the attack. One car with the brother of the local village Sarpanch reached the spot when the tiger was still gripping the guard’s neck. This person drove the car as close to the tiger as he could and started shouting, accelerating and blowing the horn. Few other guards and locals ran to spot almost immediately and the tiger left the body and retreated. The body was retrieved and taken to the hospital immediately in a safari vehicle that was coming out of the park. The tiger never left the area and hid close by behind a wall.
Where did these attacks take place?
1st attack – between Firing Butt and RIICO Industrial area, about 300 meters from where I live.
2nd attack – Just behind Sawai Madhopur old city.
3rd attack – Near Kala Pani zone 6.
4th attack – Atal Sagar near the main road barrier.
Except in the case of the third attack, all the other attacks took place less than 500 meters from human habitation. All these three attacks were at the edge of the tiger reserve, outside the national park. The national park is a part of the larger tiger reserve and all these four attacks were outside the national park, close to inhabited areas.
Why have there been not attacks on tourists who could see T 24 from very close distances
Big cats just do not attack people in vehicles as they see “people in the vehicles and the vehicle” as one entity. People on foot are people, people in vehicles are vehicles – that is how they see things. This is why tourists, guides and tourist vehicle’s drivers never get attacked. A tiger may charge at the vehicle but the tiger will never ever hit the vehicle or people inside. That is why you are perfectly safe inside a vehicle and you are asked never to get off the vehicle when there is a big cat around.
On a motorbike they see humans, but not in cars, jeeps, trucks etc.
Pilgrims have been attacked, though very rarely. The first fatal attack in Ranthambhore after it got declared as a Tiger Reserve was on a child who was going to the Ganesh Temple in the fort with others. Pilgrims almost always travel in a group and usually stay on the main tracks. Besides, since the last 5-6 years forest guards have been very actively monitoring tiger activity on the main tracks used by the pilgrims.
T 24 and aggression
“This tiger is not known for aggression” – we have heard this in the media and social media regularly. Many visitors have seen him at very close quarters and he is generally known to be a very “tourist friendly” tiger, unlike both his more dominant brothers. This is why he has such a “fan following.”
There have been some very close calls with this tigers. Forest guards Chittar, whose beat is in T 24’s territory has had some scary encounters with this tiger. He has got out of a situation, twice, where T 24 was waiting in ambush.
The scary thing about T 24’s attacks was that they were not aggressive. He was making “kills” and not defending himself nor attacking in aggression.
Why are Forest Guards walking in the forest?
Ranthambhore is hilly dry woodland where most of the waterholes are in narrow valleys that cannot be reached by a vehicle. Forest tracks that can be patrolled in vehicles barely cover 4-5% of the entire forest area – that’s where the tourists go on safaris. Most of the illegal activities happen in areas where there are no roads nor tracks where vehicles can reach.
For regular monitoring, researches, special operations Forest Guards have to be on foot. If the forest and its inhabitants are to be saved then the guards have to walk inside. I don’t know of any park in India (or maybe in the world) where guards do not walk in the forest.
Risks of not relocating T 24 out if the park
It has been firmly established that T 24 has killed 4 people and eaten two of those four. The last two people that he killed were Forest “field experienced” Guards on official forest / wildlife duty. The FD and NTCA were already seriously concerned about T 24’s killings after he killed Forest Guard Gheesu Singh.
He was nearly sentenced then but the Forest Department decided to give the tiger the benefit of doubt. However after T 24 killed Rampal, his fourth victim, no one was willing to take responsibility for the tiger. No one was sure if he would or would not kill again. The local population living around the park was worried and so were the Forest Guards who are required to walk inside the park on routine patrolling duties. If a local villager was killed then there could be some “serious repercussions” and the local social leaders had made this very clear. For the Forest Department the choice was between the welfare of this one tiger, or all the tigers of Ranthambhore.
I remember the chaos that took place after the first kill. We could not step out of our houses for two days. The Ranthambhore road was blocked with burning tyres and people were pelting stones at all cars. A similar chaos over a woman’s murder by thieves some time later led to the lynching and burning alive of the local police stations head. There were local politicians telling the Field Director that you were lucky that the last two victims were forest employees “or we would have sorted your forest out”…..
In many other tiger reserves across India tigers have been sentenced to death for “far lesser crimes” such as cattle lifting and mere presence in human habitation. There are examples in Tamil Nadu, Corbett, Kerala-Karnataka border, Tadoba and other parts of Maharastra, Uttar Pradesh and so on.
Was the relocation of T 24 illegal?
A case was filed by an activist in different courts in India, including the Supreme Court of India, claiming that T 24 was “shifted hastily under pressure of powerful tourism lobby thriving around the reserve and without scientific probe”. This case was dismissed multiple times in different courts. Here is what the Rajasthan High Court’s double bench (a bench with two judges) decided – “This decision (of shifting T 24) of the experts (Forest officers) on wildlife and tiger management under no stretch of imagination can be held to be hasty, arbitrary or unreasonable…The court was unable to agree with the petitioner that the decision to shift T 24 was under pressure of powerful tourism lobby. This we (the judges) say because tourism thrives on the tigers of Ranthambhore and not the other way around”. The Supreme Court went even further to say that the case appeared to be more about publicity that the tiger.
These are decisions by judiciary after going into all the evidence submitted. Generally speaking the courts these day are very environmentally conscious. The same courts threw this case out every single time it was filed. If there was even an iota of doubt, one of these six courts would have definitely taken up the case. The decision of the double bench of the Rajasthan High Court just has to be read to be believed.
Who took the decision to move T 24
The law says that the decision to declare any tiger as a man-eater is to be taken by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the respective state. The Chief Wildlife Warden, a senior forest officer, is technically in charge of the wildlife of the state. In T 24’s case a five-man committee was formed in Ranthambhore, which included the Deputy Field Director of Ranthambhore. This committee filed its report to the Field Director who forwarded the same to the Chief Willdife Warden who took the decision. However the Forest Minister and Chief Minister of Rajasthan approved this decision, in writing. Its not child’s play to shift tigers and to say that a few local hotels shifted the tiger is a bit of a joke.
Contrary to social media rumours, I was nothing to do with this and did not even know that a five-man committee had been set up till much later. In fact I have never been a part of any committee of the Forest Department in my life. I was not even asked to submit a report of what I saw on the 8th May evening, when T 24 attacked Rampal as there were senior forest officials present.
In Ranthambhore we first heard about the decision to relocate T 24 when the Forest Minister of Rajasthan visited the dead guards family in his village. He gave a statement “on camera” that the “tiger will be taken away from here very soon”. That is when we came to know that T 24’s fate is sealed.
How we learnt, from a member of the State Board of Wildlife, after T 24 had been relocated that on the day of the attack on Rampal Saini (8th May 2015) a meeting of the Rajasthan State Board of Wildlife was going on in Jaipur. This board includes the Chief Minister, Forest Minister and few senior most officers of Rajasthan Forest Department. This meeting got over just after 06:00 PM a short while after Rampal was killed. The members of the board were informed about the attack immediately. Later that night, after it was confirmed that the tiger that attacked Rampal was T 24 and after discussions between the members of the board a message was passed to Forest Officers to start planning for shifting. The actual order to shift came a few days later as the Chief Wildlife Warden had changed on the 8th May and it took a few days for the new officer to join the post and initiate the orders to shift T 24.
Who is the tiger expert?
Legally speaking the only tiger expert in India is the Forest Department as their officers are the ones who are empowered to take and act on decisions. No one else is. The Forest Department does often involve people who they consider to be knowledgeable and resourceful. Such people can give advice, which may or may not be heeded to. In this entire episode we kept hearing from the media and social media that the Forest Department do not know anything. They could be right but they would be wrong to assume that they know more than all the forest department officials put together.
So when a Forester with over 30 years of service, one who is overall in charge of the area which includes almost 80% of T 24’s territory says that he saw T 24 while the tiger was still killing Rampal Saini (the last victim), the media and social media activists make it out that how would he know one tiger from another. This man has been seeing tigers for a very long time. He lives in the same place where Rampal was attacked and has seen T 24 more often than anyone else on this planet. To say that someone sitting in say UK can identify T 24 but these forest officials, who see T 24 on a very regular basis, can not identify the individual is a joke.
Similarly when a forest official says that most of these four attacks took place outside the national park, our activists called him an idiot who does not know a thing. Well the attack did take part well outside the national park. The forest where these attacks took place is legally called Sawai Madhopur sanctuary and is not part of the Ranthambhore national park. They are a part of the larger tiger reserve, which includes the national park too.
Some activists are trying to tell us that the local Forest Officials and others do not know anything about their own forest; while sitting in urban setting far removed from the park they know it all. I for one cannot really believe that someone who has spent more than half his life living and working in a tiger reserve, someone who sees more tigers than even the most ardent safari goer, knows less about the tigers in his area than say someone living in Bombay or UK or USA. For the sake of wild tigers and their future well being, we should ponder this thought and be more cautious about reacting to things that we know little about. Showing concern and crying wolf without being aware of the issues is definitely not conservation.