THERE were clear indications of its nature in the weeks preceding the day T-23, the elusive ‘man-eater’ tiger, killed V Chandran in an area bordering Gudalur and the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) in the Nilgiris. T-23 began its murderous sojourn on September 25 and turned out to be the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ of Nilgiri forest. While the villagers raised an alarm, the authorities allegedly did not respond adequately.
The villagers had for days lived in panic as several cattle were mauled in and around their homes. A tiger was on the prowl and according to forest officials, he was male and as it turned out later, was nursing a wound in its mouth. According to tiger experts, this was typical feline behavior – while injured, the tiger can become vicious, killing indiscriminately.
As he continued to kill cattle and human beings, a young man rued the fact the night of October 1, when 82-year-old M Basavan had forgotten to light a fire in front of his house and became the tiger’s fourth victim in recent days.
Hours later, when his mauled body was found in Masinagudi in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR), the villagers held a protest. They would not bury his body in protests of what they thought was the authorities’ refusal to pay heed to what the villagers had forewarned for weeks — T-23 was a man-eater.
By definition, a tiger is deemed a man-eater when it finds itself old and infirm to hunt naturally, and hence preys on human beings. By that logic, as its several faculties are not as sharp as they used to be, it is also easy to catch. But the latter hasn’t been true of T-23. It took hundreds of forest officials in Tamil Nadu, also the STF in Kerala, expert trackers, drones, special cameras to trace T-23. The police barred people from travelling past the Masinagudi check post, while the Theppakadu check post has been shut down.
Meanwhile, an argument ensued over whether T-23 should be tranquillised and captured or put to sleep. Minister for Environment and Forest K Ramachandran addressed a press conference and emphasised on the fact that enough care should be taken to ascertain T-23 was captured.
Even as animal activists took to social media and hashtags like #SaveT23 began trending, one only hopes that T-23, the ailing greybeard stops in his tracks to attack and kill livestock and humans, and spends his retirement in bliss, albeit in captivity. The search continues for the elusive one.