Jhurjhura tigress was a daughter of B2, Lord of Bandhavgarh. Until her untimely death, she was one of the most bold and successful mothers in the park, having raised two healthy litters and nursing her third which consisted of 3 cubs around 6 months old. Her mate and father of all her litters is a shy male called Bokha, her father’s competitor.
The trip that David and I were booked on was supposed to be a combination of jeep and elephant safaris. However, upon arrival at the National Heritage Resort, we had been told that all elephant safaris were cancelled. At the time, it wasn’t made clear to us why they had been cancelled, only that it had something to do with a tigress dying and all the elephants were being used in an intensive search for her cubs.
The tale surrounding the circumstances of her death and the desperate search for her cubs unfolded in the days we were in the park.
Initially, there were rumours that the tigress had been attacking tourist jeeps and then been hit by one. Obviously suffering from internal injuries, Jhurjhura tigress had dragged herself back to a watering hole before dying. As this rumour spread, there was much talk of Bandhavgarh being closed to the public to protect the remaining tigers. However, it was later found that these rumours were false and had been deliberately started to hide the truth.
Jhurjhura tigress died on 19th May 2010, after having been hit by a vehicle the night before when some so-far-unidentified “important” visitors entered the park for an allegedly unauthorised and illegal night-drive. It died in the Jhurjhura area of the Reserve and, hence, has since come to be known as the “Jhurjhura tigress”.
Following her death, there then began the desperate race to find her cubs. Without their mother’s protection, they were now prey to other tigers and predators, villagers who did not want them roaming near their villages and worst of all, poachers. Daily, we asked for news of the cubs but there was nothing. Every morning and evening, we saw the elephants in the park, searching. Routes A and C, believed to be the area where the cubs were hiding were closed to the public.
Finally, after about 5 days, the orphans were found. At six months old, the cubs were already eating meat so it was decided that an enclosure would be built around their area and food would be provided for them until they were older and able to fend for themselves. It is hoped that one day, they can be rehabilitated. For me, this is probably the best outcome for the orphaned cubs. The thought of them being captured and shipped off to a zoo does not bear contemplating.
The killing caused a furore in India and abroad. According to the member-secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, enough evidence was available to indicate that two vehicles were involved in the accident. The vehicles entered the park after the closing time at 2130hrs and, unofficial reports indicate, carried sons of two state ministers who are one-time princelings. Wielding their power and influence they squelched proper investigations. Vociferous demands, including even from the central Ministry of Forests & Environment, for a Central Bureau of Investigations were ignored. The State’s Forest Department simply handed over the investigations to the provincial Criminal Investigation Department. By doing this, they effectively put a lid on the case and demonstrated their utter indifference towards the protection of tigers.
In these days of declining tiger numbers, every piece of news about them makes it to the media. Sighting of new-born cubs or deaths, mating or refusal to do so by relocated tigers, all make it to the media in fair amounts of detail. There are any number of non-governmental organisations that are running campaigns with a view to raising awareness about the need to save tigers. Clearly, there is visible desperation about the plummeting tiger numbers in the country and internationally. Yet in the midst of all this universal concern the brazen apathy of the country that calls itself “The Tiger State” is incomprehensible. Sadly, the tiger is very much under threat in the “Tiger State”.