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To save tigers, rear the orphans

New Delhi, Aug. 26: The National Tiger Conservation Authority has circulated among India’s wildlife managers a set of instructions on how to rear orphaned tiger cubs in captivity but prepare them for life in the wild.

The introduction of the standard operating procedures (SOP) to handle orphan cubs is among fresh conservation initiatives coordinated by the NTCA and announced by the Union environment and forests minister Prakash Javadekar today.

The minister also announced the launch of a proprietary electronic information network linking all of India’s 47 tiger reserves to each other and to the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau for real-time exchange of information to curb poaching.

Javadekar said the NTCA has sought the help of the National Remote Sensing Agency for satellite-based advance flood warnings to help forest officers prepare for rising river waters in protected areas.

These initiatives are intended to aid India’s four decades old tiger conservation programme amid concerns that shrinking habitats, loss of forestland, and human-tiger conflict continue to pose threats to the tiger.

The efforts to rear orphan tiger cubs for a successful return into the wild have been encouraging, said Javadekar who, while addressing a meeting of the NTCA today, recalled that he had played with tiger cubs when he was a child.

The SOP for orphan cubs that involves a step-by-step process of preparing them for hunting live animals almost coincides with the first release of an orphan tiger in the Sunderbans tiger reserve earlier this month.

“We had found the orphan cub when she was a year old — in the past such cubs were typically sent to Calcutta zoo and would be lost to the wild,” said Soumitra Dasgupta, field director of the Sunderbans tiger reserve which is estimated to have 103 tigers.

But this time, the cub was bred in a special enclosure with live chickens and goats to allow her to develop natural hunting instinct, Dasgupta told The Telegraph.

The tiger was then moved into a larger space and allowed to hunt wild boar and deer. After 18 months of observations, wildlife officials released the tiger on August 15 in Netidhopani, a region of the Sunderbans.

The proposed flood warnings are particularly intended to help in wildlife management in Kaziranga in Assam and the Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh, said Rajesh Gopal, chief of the tiger conservation programme.

Monsoon rains periodically cause floods along the Brahmaputra in Kaziranga and the Sarada river in Dudhwa. “Advance warnings would help us create artificial mounds that animals could use to find escape routes,” Gopal said.

The information network linking tiger reserves and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau will alert tiger reserves about poaching-related crimes across the country. India lost at least 16 tigers to poaching in 2011, 32 in 2012, and 14 in 2013.