She was definitely in a tearing hurry and didn’t bat an eyelash before killing six people in a short span of 16 days. She then vanished, as suddenly as she had emerged, leaving behind not just a long trail of blood and half a dozen heavily armed hunters furiously following in her pug-marks, but also an army of angry people out to get her at any cost. In the end, and with her whiskers intact, the man-eating tigress of Moradabad had the last laugh.
Mind you, I am not talking about an old ‘shikar’ yarn by Jim Corbett or Kenneth Anderson. This particular tigress made her appearance in first few weeks of year 2014 in the vast, thickly populated region around Uttar Pradesh-Uttarakhand border. The single-minded zeal with which she went about her killing spree not only shook the national media, but triggered the biggest ever operation by forest authorities in recent memory to nab a man-eating tigress.
That the operation failed is not the point of this article. Rather, it’s the partially hidden “Why” which begs for an answer, and which I suspect holds a lesson or two for all of us. I was fortunate that my team members from Raheja Productions were continuously tracking this tigress for 12 days, and therefore I am privy to the first-hand information about every twist and turn in the dramatic but ultimately futile chase.
But first, the facts. On December 26, 2013, an unidentified and partially eaten human body was discovered near Hasanpur village in Moradabad district. The village in western Uttar Pradesh is some 200 kilometres away from Corbett Tiger Reserve’s southern tip of Jhirna-Kalagarh belt in Uttarakhand, and therefore nobody at the time thought of a possible connection between the two places.
The second death took place three days later, in the Mithanpur Mauja village of Moradabad district. The killing of 28-year-old Vijay Singh on the outskirts of the village sparked off a widespread alarm in the region, for tell-tale pugmarks of a tiger were found near the body!
The discovery, which plunged the entire Moradabad district into inevitable panic within hours, also confounded the forest department of Uttar Pradesh. Nobody in living memory had ever heard of a tiger roaming in the region. And this here was no ordinary tiger, but a man-eater!
Without wasting any time, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Moradabad range, Mr Bonik Brahma, assembled several teams of officials and forest guards and went after the tiger. An upright and a very capable forest officer, Brahma was aware of the huge odds stacked against him. But he is not the man to sit idle when the house is on fire. Cages with live baits were strategically put up in the area, and elephants and tiger experts with tranquilising guns brought from Pilibhit and Dudhwa forest ranges.
However, the tigress – for this is what the killer turned out to be – had plans of her own. On January 5, 2014, she struck at Changeri village, again in the Moradabad district. Incidentally, this was her most audacious attack so far. The victim, 30 year old Rajiv, was working on the edge of the sugarcane fields with his father when the tigress pounced upon him from behind. The terrified father could do nothing to save his son, and by the time a large group of villagers arrived to claim the body, it had been dragged 300 metres inside the fields, partially devoured of course. And the tigress was nowhere to be seen.
The third killing was important for many reasons. While it did not establish the method in the tigress’ madness, it pointed out clearly at the trajectory she was taking. She was now going back towards the Uttarakhand border, from where she had presumably come. But why did she take the trouble of walking 200 kilometres away from her home range to make the first human killing – a typically un-tigerlike behavior – and what prompted her sudden retreat? I’ll try to answer these questions, but first let’s take a close look at the macabre drama which by now had the entire region in its grip.
By January 6, the tigress had become the talk of several towns in the two districts of Moradabad and adjoining Bijnore. Farmers stopped venturing into sugarcane fields; and by sunset, all houses were tightly shut from inside. At night, not a soul dared to venture out in the open. For the next seven days, the killer tigress occupied the first lead of all newspapers of the area (with Arvind Kejriwal, Dr Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi hurriedly pushed to page 3).
Thereafter, the tigress made two new headlines in quick succession. On January 7, she killed a six-year-old girl Shobha near the sugarcane fields at Mallivala village, and then on January 8, a 35-year-old woman, Dulari , at Daryapur village. The tigress was now inching closer towards Uttarakhand.
The UP villages situated close to Uttarakhand border now clearly fell in the danger zone. Thousands of pamphlets were distributed in over 50 villages, asking people to stay clear of the tigress’ path as she was heading towards Uttarakhand and to take extreme precautions while entering the sugarcane fields.
At around the same time, the forest department pressed the panic button. Fear in the region had turned to anger, and at several places villagers – armed with guns and spears – had started scouting the area in large numbers. Issuing death warrant for the tigress, the forest department of UP allowed teams of six hunters to move in and finish off the tigress – if they could. Incredible as it may seem, nobody who was alive (barring the third victim’s father) had even seen the killer tigress, let alone photograph her.
Her pugmarks on a blood-splattered trail was all that the villagers, forest officials and the hunters had to contend with. Twice, I contemplated joining my team which was filming the event, but my busy schedule held me in check.
As feared, the next killing – on January 10 – took place barely 12 kilometres from the jungles of Corbett Tiger Reserve. Twenty-two-year old Shiv Kumar of Maniawala Gadhi village could not prevent himself from becoming the sixth meal of the man-eating tigress. He too, like the other victims, was working in a sugarcane field at the time of the fatal attack.
Since January 10th of 2014, no fresh killing by the tigress has been reported.
Calm has returned to the troubled zone, but the whys still need to be answered. The circumstantial evidence – established by the tigress’ route and pugmarks – proves beyond a shadow of doubt that she had come from the Corbett Tiger Reserve and returned after 16 days. But why did she do it in the first place?
As any criminal lawyer will tell you, no crime is committed without a motive. But what could be the motive for this apparently healthy tigress to go on a sudden killing spree, and then stop the killings as suddenly? I am sure if Jim Corbett had been alive, he too would have been bewildered by the tigress’ ostensibly abnormal behavior. But has her behavior been really abnormal? Let me try to fit in a few missing pieces in this jigsaw puzzle, through information which we gleaned after several hours of interactions with the forest officials, both senior and junior, of the affected areas.
On December 16, 2013, there was widely circulated news of the arrest of 12 alleged poachers near Amangarh forest range, situated on the border of Corbett’s Kalagarh range. Two skins of freshly killed tigers were seized from these people. Both the dead tigers were sub-adults – implying there was a mother tigress too somewhere – and were in all probability siblings.
Let’s fast forward to January 12 of this year. That day, the last pug-marks of the killer tigress were seen at the very spot on the outskirts of Amangarh from where the skins of two tigers were seized! I am sure many of my readers will lap up the inference – for there is none other to disprove it.
And if my hypothesis is correct, the killer tigress is none other than the mother of the two dead sub-adult tigers. In my decades of jungle experience, I have found that normally a tigress leaves her territory only when driven out of it by another, stronger female. However, going strictly by the circumstantial evidence, it was not the case with this particular killer tigress.
It’s easy to comprehend what could have happened next. Distraught at the disappearance of her two cubs, the tigress came out of the forest cover and started moving towards human settlements. The search for the cubs took her all the way to Moradabad district, when she realized the futility of it and turned back.
Failing to locate the cubs, the tigress took out her anger at the six unlucky humans who came in her way. Or should I dare suggest that it was a mother’s revenge?
Navin M Raheja
Chairman & Managing Director, Raheja Developers Ltd.
Whether he is donning his yellow helmet or holding his camera, Mr. Raheja is a very interesting personality. He is one of those who would rather have an intellectually stimulating discussion than sit around while life drags on. It is also a huge likelihood that these discussions often take place in forest, as that is where he likes to be, in the midst of nature. An avid photographer and wildlife enthusiast, he has spent his life in the bush & his knowledge and passion for India’s flora & fauna is immense. A former member of the Project Tiger steering committee, under the Ministry of Environment & forests, he has made several contributions to the field of wildlife conservation. He has worked tirelessly for over 35 years to 40 years to ensure that the big cats survive in India. One of the leading real estate developers in the country, he is amongst the few successful entrepreneurs who has such an insatiable appetite for wildlife conservation and deeply cares about protecting the environment.