In November 2020, Bijumon, a forest watcher at the Periyar Tiger Reserve, followed the warning calls of monkeys in the forest when he came across a tiger cub, near the Mangaladevi hill. The two-month-old female cub was abandoned by her mother, and was not healthy when Bijumon found her. A group of forest watchers then arrived at the spot and sent photographs of the cub to Suresh Babu, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Periyar Tiger Reserve. Once the DCF was informed, the forest officials quickly arranged for the cub to be rescued to a nearby camp.
After she was rescued, a special medical team was constituted to check on the cub, whom the officials had named Mangala. It was found that her legs were weak and her eyesight was poor. Her health was so frail that the forest officials thought she would die, and some of them spent several nights without sleep, watching over her throughout. From then on, the Forest Department made it their mission to help her recover.
"There is a standard operational procedure given by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, if a tiger cub is found orphaned. Initial attempts were made to reunite the cub with its mother. We kept cameras in nearby locations to find its mother. The mother tiger was identified, but we were not able to reunite them," Manu Sathyan, Assistant Field Director, Periyar Tiger Reserve told TNM.
With the Forest Department now forced to take care of Mangala, the next step was to help her gain strength. After the initial treatments, Mangala was brought to Karadi Kavala, which is six kilometres from where she was found and is slightly warmer. Here, she underwent intense medication and physiotherapy, which made her legs stronger and improved her eyesight significantly. Over a period of eight months, she gained 40 kg and is served about 1.5 kg of meat every day.
Months after being under the watchful eye of the Forest Department, Mangala was shifted to a larger enclosure on Thursday, July 29, which was also World Tiger Day. Here, she can learn to adapt to a more natural environment. Officials aim to rewilding Mangala, which involves training her for survival the same way her mother would have trained her. And if she meets all the criteria, she will be introduced back into the forest where she belongs.
"Now we have to slowly stop the medications. The next thing she should learn is hunting. We need to stop giving her meat as she has to hunt live animals. She has that natural instinct in her, but we need to help her bring it out. She should kill at least 50 animals before we consider rewilding,‚ÄĚ Manu Sathyan said.
According to protocol, animals must be two at least two years old before being rewilded. Apart from this, a panel of doctors must certify that the animal is healthy and has no genetic defects in order to be introduced back into the wild.
The larger enclosure that Mangala has been shifted into ensures a spacious environment where she can be properly trained. According to Forest Department officials, work for the construction of this enclosure began four months ago. It is also equipped with high security for the tiger cub. She will remain here and receive proper training until she turns two, so that she will be able to survive in the wild by herself.
The officials have been trying to reduce Mangala‚Äôs attachment with her caretakers, and will start hunting training for her soon. According to Manu Sathyan, though rewilding has not worked out, there have been instances of animals going back to the wild successfully. However, there have been no successful cases of rewilding in south India, according to the officer.