Positive news from the world of environment is so infrequent that when it does occur it is a moment of celebration. And when it has to do with the tiger, it is that much more joyous. And so it was when the Wildlife Department revealed that a young tiger, about two years old, had successfully relocated himself from one sanctuary to another. Wandering tigers, especially male ones, are a common phenomenon, but what made this exceptional is that Walker 2, as he has been prosaically named, walked about 2,000 kilometres across Maharashtra to what is hopefully his new home.
His journey began in Vidarbha’s Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary and ended in Aurangabad district’s Gautala Autramghat Sanctuary. By road, this would be a distance of about 350 km, but, of course, the tiger would have taken a more circuitous route, sticking to wooded areas, a theory strongly supported by the fact that there were no reported instances of man-animal conflict on his journey. Experts surmise that he would have walked through Pandharkawda in Vidarbha’s Yavatmal district, Umarkhed, then crossed over into Telangana and then back into Maharashtra’s Akola, Buldhana, Hingoli until he reached Gautala in the Ajanta mountain range.
On March 15, camera trap pictures showed a new tiger in the Gautala Autramghat Sanctuary and excited wildlife officials who had been following Walker 2’s movements realised he had arrived. For wildlifers in the district, it was a momentous announcement since this is the first sighting in Gautala sanctuary since 1940. Walker 2 had not been radio-collared so officials relied on cross-matching his stripe pattern from photos that had been taken in Pandharkawda before they confirmed it was indeed T3C1, the official name for the same animal.
Gautala sanctuary is 260 sq. km. of tropical dry deciduous forests and grasslands. It is perfect tiger country. It has a healthy prey base and already supports at least 25 leopards, sambhar, nilgai, chinkara, barking deer, fox, jungle cats, leopard cats and wild boar. And while the 15 camera traps in the sanctuary have not seen him dining, there is ample evidence via sambhar and nilgai kills that Walker 2 is living well.
Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Vidarbha is a relatively small sanctuary of 150 sq. km. and since it is part of the larger conservation effort in Vidarbha, there is a high survival rate of tigers there. This means that young males often have to leave the sanctuary to find their own territories. In June 2019, another tiger left Tipeshwar and journeyed to Buldhana’s Dnyanganga sanctuary, moving through eight districts of the State—an astounding 3,000 km over seven months This one, named Walker 1, had been fitted with a radio collar and until December 2019 his movements were monitored.
Walker 2’s story underscores the importance of wildlife corridors. It is only because of these that it was possible for him to make his way to Gautala where it is hoped that he will settle.