The Tiger that Lost its Fangs: The Unusual Life of P 212

by Suhas Kumar

This is a story about a tiger that was to suffer a series of adversities without taking it to heart and coming out of those misfortunes with remarkable resilience. He was a maverick and an adventurer, and he was a winner who lived his life to the hilt. This story is about a tiger called P 212 that was born to Tigress T2 a founder female brought from Kanha as part of a tiger reintroduction project.

The name 212 is a code name – the first digit reveals to which female a cub belongs and the second digit tells the litter number of that female. So, P 212 was one of the four cubs born to T2, which was her first litter, in October 2010. One of the female cubs perished and three survived.
His brother P211 was an explorer and once he created quite a flutter when he made a forest area, in Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh, his temporary jurisdiction to the chagrin of the then CWLW Uttar Pradesh. His exploits will be told in another story.
The successful reintroduction of tigers in the tigerless habitat of Panna, that had once harboured around thirty-five tigers, was no ordinary feat and for this superhuman effort everyone from the watchers to the top bosses must be praised and applauded. Yet, the most constant source of leadership that oversaw the resurrection of tigers in Panna was of course R. Srinivas Murthy – now fondly called ‘the Tiger Man’ by many.
In the process of repopulating the reserve many tiger myths were demolished, several new insights into tiger behaviour and their movement patterns became available and even marked differences in the responses of tigers reared in captivity were observed when they were released in the forest to live a life of freedom. What were the learnings? That story will come later
As by late 2011 the first-generation cubs at Panna has already grown up, I was extremely concerned about their safety. In a few months they would be ready to disperse beyond tiger reserve’s core area as till then the buffer was not notified and the area beyond the core was managed by territorial divisions. Territorial divisions work under different set of objectives though all ranks of officers managing their respective territory are legally designated Wildlife Wardens under the Wildlife Protection Act and therefore responsible for protecting and managing wildlife and their habitats within their jurisdictions.
Unfortunately, in those days it was an unwritten policy of the wildlife wing to leave the territorial forest officers alone in matters pertaining to wildlife management, and that approach of the seniors in the wildlife wing was the real cause of my unease. I discussed this with the Head of the Forest Force (HoFF) and sought his time to make a presentation on the importance of roping in territorial divisions to take care of the tigers. With his permission I made a presentation on 23 April 2012 before PCCFs (HoFF, Wildlife and IT). The HoFF agreed to my suggestion and in May 2012 a Tiger Task Force headed by APCCF (Protection) was created to oversee and guide the management and protection of grown up tigers dispersing from Panna tiger reserve into adjoining territorial divisions. These divisions were also given funding support from a specially created state Plan head for protection and management of wildlife outside protected areas. This fund was effectively used to train and equip the territorial staff in wildlife protection and monitoring.
Now back to the story that was emerging from Panna.
P 212 and his siblings had a short tenure with her mother T2. They were weaned off in just one year and five months in March 2012. Soon, he was ready to explore the world beyond. P 212 had got his first radio-collar on 13.5.2012 as all first-generation young tigers were fitted with collars to monitor and understand their movement pattern. P 212, the eighteen months old, moved out of the national park on 3 August 2012, crossed the Uchehra plateau and reached Pangara village of Satna district. Murthy’s team tracked it and he was brought back to the reserve on 5 August 2012.
He lived happily in the reserve without any noticeable twist in his life until one day he tried to tackle something much bigger and powerful than himself. P 212 had a daring attitude; he was always ready to subdue prey much larger than his own size. One day in late March 2013, he tried to tackle a bull but in return the experienced bull gave him a nasty puncture on the right flank just near the area where the shoulder joins the torso. From outside, the wounds did not look threatening.
The Reserve’s vet Dr. Sanjiv Gupta hoped that these wounds would heal naturally; yet to keep away infection and to assist healing he administered some antibiotic shots from a dart gun and the staff continued monitoring the animal. But within a week they found that the wound had festered. Murthy called and requested me to send Dr. A. B. Shrivastava from Wildlife Forensic and Health Centre, Jabalpur to inspect and treat P 212. I immediately talked to him. Dr. AB Shrivastava, readily agreed to come along with Dr. Chanpuria a renowned veterinary surgeon. I facilitated their visit.
Both doctors reached Panna on 3 April 2013 they immobilized the tiger and inspected the wound. They found that the bull had actually wounded the tiger not at one but several places on the chest and on both left and right flanks. The wounds were deep and infected. Besides, maggots had made inroads into the muscle. They cleaned, medicated and sutured the wound but P212 needed regular supervision and cleaning of wound. Murthy consulted the doctors and decided to shift P 212 to a smaller improvised one hectare enclosure within the larger enclosure erected earlier at Badgadi for soft release of the founder tigers. (A soft release enclosure is built to provide sufficient time to an animal brought from other area to adjust and adapt to a new environment before it is released into a new habitat.)
But, the next day when Dr. Sanjiv went to assess the wound he found swelling in the right shoulder and leg. This was bad news. The tiger needed further care and treatment under close supervision. Dr. Sanjiv shifted him to a cage and gave necessary medicines. This arrangement misfired, the unhappy tiger fought with the iron rods of the cage in an attempt to escape and in this process broke both his upper canines. When this came to light, Murthy got worried. He was doubtful whether such an animal could fend for itself if released in the jungle. He rang me up and we discussed the pros and cons and decided on a course of action. As the tiger already had a radio-collar on him, we decided to release him and keep a close watch and if we found that he was unable to make a kill and eat it or defend himself, the vet could easily recapture and send him to the zoo. By April 25 2013 the wound was almost healed and to our great delight three days later he killed its first wild prey (a male Nilgai).
After successfully emerging from the ordeal, P212 roamed freely around the reserve, and one day (on 10. September 2013) he decided to walk to Jhalar village. Jhalar was a half-empty village inside the reserve and a large part of it was already vacated by the villagers who had willingly accepted relocation to a place outside the tiger reserve. Some families did not leave and demanded a better package. Here, just at the outskirts of this village, in a patch of forest, P212 met a village dog. A guard, who happened to be on patrol, was sharp enough to capture them in his mobile camera hobnobbing as if they were long-lost friends. But as it turned out, the dog tricked the tiger, ran behind him and bit his tail. As soon as the news of this hilarious incident, along with the funny picture, reached the FD and the vet, they were not amused but alarmed. A rapid investigation revealed that the dog was rabid and the villagers had later killed it. A post-mortem was conducted and the brain tissue was sent to the lab for confirmation of rabies.
As there was ample reason to believe that the dog was sick with a deadly virus the vet decided to administer six doses of anti-rabies vaccine to P212. Over more than a month the vet meticulously administered those six doses following the vaccination schedule.
I am so very proud of the veterinarians working in M.P.’s protected areas because I consider them among the best vets of the world. Their experience is formidable and their dedication to the job is par excellence. This particular case is an example of their knowledge and field craft. As the rabies vaccine must be administered subcutaneously – between the skin and the muscle, to achieve that much penetration short needles are used, but the needles used in dart guns are long. To overcome this Dr. Sanjiv used plastic sleeves to effectively shorten the needle ensuring subcutaneous delivery – all the six doses were administered remotely using a dart-gun. Dr. Sanjiv had a larger share of immobilization experience because of his posting in Panna; so far, he had the opportunity to immobilize sixty-one tigers for the purposes of treatment, rescue or relocation, besides he has immobilized and rescued eighty-six other wild animals. Other vets in the wildlife wing have their own long lists of accolades.
So, our friend P212 survived the deadly virus, too, and lived happily in the reserve till he was bitten by the wander bug, once again. This time he probably followed a route that most tigers of an earlier era might have used to hop from one tiger habitat to another (now unmindful and ecologically unsound development projects have extensively damaged these pathways). His absence was noticed by the tiger reserve staff in the last week of March 2014. At that time Murthy was experiencing a dire shortage of field staff especially Range officers. He called a Range Officer Tushti Singh – she had joined recently, and deputed her to track P 212. She proved to be efficient and tenacious. She followed the tiger from Panna to about 25 kms short of Bandhavgah tiger reserve. The Tiger spent the night of 28 March at the same spot as he was dissuaded from proceeding towards Bandhavgarh by the bright lights of a cement factory and decided not to venture further towards Bandhavgarh. From there he turned north, skirted the edge of the Kaimur range and on 29 March 2014 reached a village in Rewa district and made himself comfortable in a field. The tenacious Tushti Singh was not far behind.
In the morning when people discovered that a tiger in resting in a farm, a huge crowd gathered. A faction of that crowd was ready to take on the tiger and finish him off. Another Range of officer present on the scene was Manju Uikey; she took charge of the situation and along with a local guard and a conscientious villager stood their ground and kept the crowd at bay till the rescue vehicle and the wildlife veterinarian Dr. Sanjiv reached the spot. Murthy and the vet were in constant touch with me over phone. Murthy wanted a direction whether P212 should go back to Panna? I discussed this with the CWLW and we decided to send P212 to restock the poor tiger population of Sanjay tiger Reserve, where, after several years of no-management an energetic and far-sighted Officer – K. Raman – was posted as Field Director. As the signal from P212’s collar was weak, Dr. Sanjiv changed the radio-collar and then transported him to Sanjay tiger reserve. P212 was released in Sanjay on 30 March 2014. He was now trying to adjust to a new prey deficient habitat. In Sanjay his diet mainly consisted of cattle. At that time there were one male and two female tigers in the reserve. Soon P 212 found the females and started courting them. He sired eight cubs from the two tigresses.
But ill luck never stopped following him and just three months after his arrival in Sanjay he developed a wound on the neck perhaps due to attrition of the skin from the radio-collar, which nobody in the reserve had noticed it till 30 July 2014. On 30 July 2014 a team of vets – Dr. Sanjiv along with Dr. Shrivastava the head of the Wildlife Forensic and Heath Centre, Jabalpur and Dr. G. Areendran, Director-IGCMC & IT WWF-India had assembled to immobilize and replace the damaged satellite collar. When the collar was removed a gaping maggoty wound shocked everyone present. The vets treated the wound and they all concurred to postpone recollaring till the complete healing of the wound.
Soon, bad luck entangled him once again and this time the local people began holding him responsible for the killing of a man in East Beohari Range on 21.12.2014, but investigation revealed presence of another tiger in the vicinity of the place of incident.
Sanjay tiger reserve was in good hand after decades of neglect. I wanted to take full advantage of this change. I mooted a proposal to start a research project with two aims – first to carry out research on tigers and second to inculcate scientific temper in the young forest guards and range officers and arouse their interest in wildlife. The aim of the research project was to study the home ranges, habitat use pattern and ranging pattern of resident and introduced tigers. So, I discussed this with Dr. K. Sankar, Senior scientist at WII, Dehradun and a proposal was developed and implemented. One of the requirements was to radio-collar some tigers and once again P 212 was chosen as one of the candidates; he was immobilized for the 8th time on 7 may 2015 and a new radio-collar was tied to his neck.
Alas! P212 could not help the research team with data from his collar for long as just after two and a half months, he was found dead in the morning of 20.7.2015 in compartment 230 of the Regna Patpar beat of Beohari range. A team of Veterinarians assembled again, but not to give him another lease of life but to find the cause of his death. The doctors concluded that the animal had died almost forty hours earlier and, on its body, there were multiple maggot filled wounds. The viscera showed extensive haemorrhaging especially in the sternum region. They expressed the possibility of a fight with another animal. The killer tiger’s image was captured in a camera trap on 26 July 2015.
Our hero died out of turn at the age of about 4 years and 9 months and during this short-span of time he was tranquillized eight times to keep him safe. Alas! Nature has its own ways and we humans mostly fail when Nature decides to take over, we are happy that P212 has left his genes behind and his progenies will carry his legacy and continue to fill the land with more and more tigers. Amen!