By Sudhanshu Mishra
Tigress 'Machli', the pride of Ranthambore National Park, is missing for over last two weeks. Despite deploying several teams to trace the tigress, the forest authorities have no clue of the world's most photographed striped cat.
Her disappearance has sparked poaching fear among wildlife enthusiasts. According to Dhirendra Godha, a member of the State Board for Wildlife, the tigress was last seen on January 9 by a nature guide - Yadvendra Singh - in Zone 5 of the park. The information was passed to the park officials.
"Thereafter, neither any tourist nor forest personnel has seen her till now, though her pugmarks were traced couple of days ago," Deputy Conservator of Forests Rahul Bhatnagar said.
Sources said the tigress, who is over 17 years old, was forced to leave a spot called 'Baba ki Gufa' after she came under pressure from other tigers.
Considering her age and diminished hunting prowess, Machli was offered bait on a regular basis, they said.
Besides tigers T6, T25 and T28, this move drew other striped cats - Machli's neighbours like T19 and her two cubs T64 and T65 - to her territory.
The encroachments inside her territory forced Machli, officially coded as T16, to move to adjoining spots "Bhoot Khora" and "Peeli Ghati".
But this is a cause for concern since about one year ago, another tigress T17 disappeared from "Peeli Ghati" and remains missing.
It has given rise to the speculation of the presence of poachers in the area.
"There are few tigers that survive up to the age of 10 to 12 in the wild. But the once reigning carnivore is occupying the core area of the Ranthambore National Park," R. N. Mehrotra said.
The retired principal conservator of forests has seen Machli grow over the years. The tigress got its name from the fish-shaped marking on the left part of her face.
Machli has given birth to nine cubs, including four males and five females, between 2000 and 2006.
Of them, six including T1 and T18 translocated to the Sariska reserve in 2008-09 (recoded ST2 and ST3), are still alive.
Recently, ST 2 gave birth to two cubs. It may be recalled that in view of her rarity, the Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) had bestowed the honour of a "Lifetime achievement award" upon Machli, while a commemorative postal cover was also issued last September so that her legend is remembered forever.