Written by Shravya NB (Grade 10)
Tiger T-30, considered the legendary tigress of Pench, was born to T-15 (her mother, affectionately called ‘Badi Mata’) and T-1 (her father, popularly called ‘Charger’) in the year 2005. In 2008, the tigress was fitted with a radio collar, which allowed her to be studied by the environmentalists, after which she was named the Collarwali. Conservationists like Vivek Menon call her the “The Face of Pench” for Collarwali used to display an unusual temperament that let visitors and photographers document her. The BBC photographers have a favourite story about the tigress in the process of documenting her. One of the stars of the BBC documentary “Spy in the Jungle” turned a great hit.
Collarwali was a brave, friendly and unique tigress who would come very close to tourist vehicles and make their visits joyful. The conservationists of Pench said that tiger sightings were rare at Pench before Collarwali was born. But soon, she became the most-sighted tigress at Pench.
Collarwali was unique amongst the other animals. Mr Patil said “She was so big that other tigers were scared to fight with her. Sometimes officials from other tiger reserves who visited Pench would mistake her for a male because of her size.”
She established her own territory in the prime area of her mother’s range and she rarely stepped out of it and reigned there until her death.
While the radio collar was a distinctive mark about her, what made her world-famous was the record that she held. She littered 29 cubs, of which 25 survived – a record in India, and possibly the world.
Collarwali littered for the first time in May 2008, when three beautiful cubs emerged. As an amateur mother, harsh monsoon rains affected her cubs, and she was unable to protect her cubs and her newborns died of pneumonia within three months.
In October 2008, Collarwali produced her second litter. This time four cubs were born, three of which were male. She kept her litters in a safe den for the first fifteen-twenty days, and then kept them shifting from den to den, but making sure the site gave access to a water source and to catch prey easily.
In 2010, she littered five cubs, a rare feast according to the naturalists.
Collarwali became a Supermom by giving birth to 29 cubs over her lifetime. Collarwali trained her cubs to be independent earlier by leaving them in areas where there was abundant prey. She was a strong mother too and would kill two a day to fill her cubs’ stomachs.
Collarwali is credited for having given Pench an image of a tiger reserve. The number of cubs she produced adds to her part of her legacy. Their offspring are also adding to the tiger population in the area.
Collarwali took out her third litter out of their den much sooner than her previous litters. The residence of her tiger mate offered them additional protection. Her third litter started hunting faster than her earlier offsprings. They were just 14 months old when a female cub hunted a chital fawn on her own. In the pre-dispersal stage, when her cubs were around 20 to 24 months old, they began forming groups in order to avoid being easily spotted by the prey species. The male cub teamed up with one of the female cubs and the remaining three female cubs formed the second group.
Even though Collarwali hunted large prey at times to satisfy their hunger, she kept herself periodically so that her sub-adult offsprings could hunt independently. This is a survival strategy the Collarwali brought in her cubs. Collarwali’s home range extended to over 29 sq. km. in the duration that she gave birth to her cubs until they dispersed. She chose her denning areas such that they met all the requirements for survival such as the abundance of food and water, adequate cover to stalk and rest and, importantly, little or no humans.
On January 14, Collarwali was last spotted by her visitors. She came, weak and exhausted to the stream in the open and lay there for two hours with only her ears twitching. The next day on January 15, Collarwali passed away. Unlike the other tigers, who generally prefer to die in dark and secluded areas, Collarwali came out in an open area to die her natural death, which is very rare to happen among the tigers.
The post-mortem of the body revealed the cause of death as multiple organ failure due to intestine blockage resulting from old age.
Collarwali was cremated in an open ground in the reserve after staff, naturalists and local villagers paid her respects by offering her flowers and prayers. People wanted to celebrate her legacy instead of mourning her. When a tiger grows old, it is a tendency among the younger tigers to push the old ones out of their territories. However, Collarwali had dominance over her territory till the very end.
Collarwali might not be spotted by wildlife enthusiasts anymore, but this ‘Queen of Pench’ will continue to live through her tales and through the lineage she has left behind.
Featured Image Courtesy – Free Press Journal