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Another tiger in Thackeray land
- After eight decades, big cat sighted in forest near Mumbai

Mumbai, June 26: For the first time in his life, Balasaheb Thackeray has competition. A tiger has been sighted in the vicinity of Mumbai that has been Thackeray’s unchallenged territory for as long as anyone can remember.

The animal, spotted and filmed in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a forest that stretches from the northern suburbs of Mumbai, could be a female, said S. Bharati, deputy conservator of forest.

But environmentalists following the big cat’s pug marks say they are not sure of its gender.

The forest official also said the tiger probably had a companion nearby, though the environmentalists were not sure of that either. But everyone agrees that this means the re-entry of the species into the forest after a long hiatus.

Shiv Sena leader Thackeray, 77, is often referred to as the tiger, which is also the emblem of his party. Subhash Desai, a senior Sena leader, said the party had adopted this symbol because of the tiger’s aggressive nature and its stripes — a tiger doesn’t change its stripes, the saying goes. Nor does Thackeray.

The tiger is also the vehicle of Goddess Amba Mata, worshipped in Maharashtra.

“The last time a tiger was seen in these parts was in 1927,” said environmentalist Devi Goenka, who has been running a campaign against encroachers in the national park. But that animal was shot.

If what Goenka said is correct, this tiger has travelled a long way — possibly from the Dangs forests in Bhuj, Gujarat, through Nashik, Thane and the Tungareshwar forest in Maharashtra.

Goenka said four or five tigers have been reported in the Dangs area, which earned notoriety some years ago because missionaries had come under attack over allegations of forced conversions.

“There were reports of a tiger sighting for the last few months. First we saw pug marks, then we saw some hair,” Goenka said. Casts were made of the pug marks and tested.

Some tiger excreta was also spotted and the samples were sent to the Wildlife Institute of India at Dehra Dun.

But it was only two weeks ago that the animal was seen. Ulhas Karanth, a wildlife expert from Bangalore, had put up three cameras to photograph the animal. But Karanth could not photograph the animal when it appeared. An NGO worker, Mayur Kamat, filmed it with his video camera at a spot that is about 15 km from Borivli, the bustling suburb that marks the end of Mumbai district.

Ashish Fernandes of Sanctuary Features said the animal could have strayed into the area looking for a new hunting ground. It could be an older tiger unable to cope with competition from its progeny, or a male sub-adult looking for new territory.

The tiger’s appearance has rekindled the debate on encroachment in the area. Some activists argue that predatory animal presence in the park is a threat to human habitation, which includes slums and tribal settlements.

Fernandes, representing the other side and concerned about the well-being of wildlife, said the tiger would find it easier to survive if there was a companion in the neighbouring Tungareshwar forest, which was likely.

Farther from the city, Tungareshwar may in any case be a safer place. There may not be enough space in and around Mumbai for two tigers.

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