Mystery of the missing Himachal tiger
Shimla: Photographs of a tiger roaming in solitary splendour in the hills surrounding the picturesque tourist resort of Manali have failed to impress Himachal Pradesh’s wildlife wing. The tiger does not exist, they say.It all began when a French trekker Antoine spotted a tiger in the hills of Manali sanctuary – otherwise not known to host tigers – in April this year. He happily clicked not only the big cat but also its pugmarks and sent the pictures to the state’s wildlife department, perhaps hoping for a pat on the back.Instead, the pictures left officials unmoved.’We conducted extensive searches of the Manali sanctuary in May and June but we couldn’t find any evidence of a tiger. We even asked the locals, who too said they had never seen a tiger in the vicinity. We believe it’s a farce,’ chief wildlife warden A.K. Gulati said.So why is it so difficult to believe the picture?Manali sanctuary is spread over 32 sq km in Kullu district. The avifauna is quite good as it supports the endangeed western tragopan, the Himalayan monal, the koklas, the white crested kalij and the cheer pheasant.It is home to the leopard, Himalayan black bear, antelope, musk deer, the Himalayan tahr – a wild goat that lives on the steepest cliffs – and many other beautiful beasts. Except the tiger.The nearest place which has a tiger population is Uttarakhand’s Rajaji National Park, some 300 km away. And the chances of a tiger sauntering across the state boundary, covering all this distance and then posing for photographs are as good as nil, the experts say.Hence, the raised eyebrows.Kullu divisional forest officer B.S. Rana said: ‘We surveyed the area extensively in July. We will search again this month as the trekker has sent us mails saying the pictures are real.’Officials cannot contact Antoine, who’s back home in France. So they did the next best thing – ask his guide.’The guide was a resident of Manali. We took him to the spot where the tiger was apparently clicked. Yes, the surroundings matched the picture, but there was no evidence of the presence of the tiger,’ he said.Other experts too are doubtful of the pictures’ authenticity.Uttam Saikia, a researcher with the high altitude field station of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) in Solan, told it was almost impossible to sight the tiger in the Manali sanctuary.According to him, the presence of a tiger in the wild in Himachal Pradesh was only recorded in the Simbhalwara sanctuary in Sirmaur district, adjoining Uttarakhand, but not Manali.’We have twice collected fresh tiger scats in the Simbhalwara sanctuary between 2005 and 2007. But migration hundreds of kilometres away to Manali is totally impossible, unbelievable,’ Saikia said, shaking his head.