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How safe is Bannerghatta for tigers ?

S. Sridhar Prasad

BANGALORE: She was a docile mother of two cubs.

Neethu, a generally active and friendly nine-year-old tigress at the Bannerghatta National Park has now thrown up questions of the safety measures that the Park authorities have taken.

It may be recalled that on Saturday, Neethu, the tigress, climbed up a nine- feet fence and provoked the other tigers that were sauntering in the tiger safari there. The pride which was enraged by the her attacked her, and killed her on the spot.

She was buried by midnight because she was so badly mauled and had begun to putrefy. She had sustained bites on the head, neck and hind legs. She finally died of severe bleeding.

"Such an incident has never been heard of in any zoo anywhere in the world," said Deputy Conservation of Forests Mr Krishnappa. "This was not expected, or else we would have taken precaution. According to him, tigers have been known to climb trees but never a mesh fence.

The enclosure where Neethu was kept was a space reserved for other tigers that she was compatible with. However, for reasons best known to her she took the fatal decision to break the barrier.

Unlike most other species, the tiger is a solitary animal, explained tiger expert and naturalist Ullas Karanth. "They stay and hunt together only during the mating season. There have been instances where mother tigresses have chased their own cubs. But tigers have a natural instinct to explore, whether they are in a cage or in the wilderness," he added.

Mr Karanth declined to comment on the safety measures adopted by the park authorities but said that "there has been some carelessness" somewhere.

"Something like what happened on Saturday could recur gain, because tigers which are basically nomadic and cover territory over 300 sq km in the wild cannot be locked up in a cage for too long," he added.

Despite this instinct, the fact is that Neethu was born in captivity and has lived in the park all her life, according to the park authorities.

According to noted wildlife photographer E. Hanumantha Rao what happened was no "freak accident" as Chief Wildlife Warden Chakravarthy called the incident.

"On my last call to the park, I was told that Neethu was not mingling with the rest of the group, causing trouble. She had to be segregated then and tight security had to maintained. Besides, it is very rare for male tigers to attack or kill a tigress. Skirmishes between tigresses is very common," he added.