‘Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night;What immortal hand or eye,Could frame thy fearful symmetry?’( William Blake) Tigress Sundari , (source- newindianexpress.com) As the time for the annual celebration of Global Tiger's Day on July 29th draws close, it’s fitting to ask ourselves ‘Is the tiger burning bright ?” History: Global Tiger’s Day is the outcome of the “Tiger Summit” that took place in St. Petersburg, Russia on 21–24 November 2010. Around 500 representatives of 13 Tiger Range States ( including India), the partner organizations of the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative, and institutions important for the conservation of tigers debated on all aspects of tiger conservation. The goals of the International Tiger Forum were to raise awareness for tiger conservation & promote the protection of its natural habitat. Signatories declared an agreement that governments of tiger-populated countries would double the animal’s population by 2022. The Scenario In India: Back home, Project Tiger that was launched in April 1973 by the Government of India, has successfully increased the numbers of the tiger in various reserves & parks. India is now home to nearly 3,000 tigers, a third more than it had four years ago, according to the latest tiger census. The population of these big cats had been declining for a century as they competed for habitat space with the exponential growth of the human population. The tiger is a solitary, long-range animal and claims large territories, with an adult male tiger's home territory approximately extending from 150sqkm to 1000sqkm. Thus, large areas of intact forests are necessary for conservation. This pressure exists alongside and is tragically enhanced by the relentless poaching, conflict with humans, and the dubious demand for their bones as an ingredient in Chinese medicine. Attacks by tigers are relatively rare, with around 40 to 50 people annually killed by these big cats. However, the deaths caused by tigers tap into a primordial fear that, if left unaddressed, can drive communities to extremes, resulting in targeted killing of tigers. According to the data from the Ministry of Forest Environment and Climate Change (MoEFCC), there were 84 cases of tiger deaths in the country and 11 cases of seizures. Tiger bones, claws, teeth, penises, fur-- destined for China, fetch exorbitantly high prices in the black market. This translates to poachers being enthusiastic to ‘take care’ of these ‘problem’ animals for the rural Indians; further, the poachers also pay money to buy the silence of the villagers in their highly systemized illegal profit-making venture. Further, lack of tiger habitats is leading to excessive inbreeding between tigers causing genetic anomalies like the sighting of the golden tiger in Assam, Black Tigers & White Tigers which are Bengal Tigers with pseudo-melanism. Pure melanism refers to a large amount of black pigmentation of the hair/fur/feathers, eyes, etc, which is not good news for the tiger population. In 2013, a joint study by the National Centre for Biological Sciences and Cardiff University had flagged the concern that Indian tigers no longer possess 93% of their genetic variation. The tiger is a unique animal that plays a pivotal role in the health and diversity of an ecosystem. It is a top predator that is at the apex of the food chain and is known as the umbrella species. Therefore, the presence of tigers in the forest is an indicator of the well being of the ecosystem. The Case Of Odisha: The Project Tiger in Odisha, was passionately looked after by an IFS officer, Shri Saroj Raj Choudhary, who was the founder-director of the Simlipal national park. His dedication to saving these magnificent creatures was offset by a deep understanding of big cat behavior and needs. In 1974, the indigenous Kharia tribals found a female tiger cub on the banks of the Khairi river. Choudary adopted the cub which stayed with him in Jashipur as part of his family and named it Khairi. For seven years, Khairi the tigress stayed domesticated and the entire world looked on with amazement at this intimate bonding. Later on, steps were taken to adapt and release the tigress into the wild. A very important lesson to be learned from this passionate conservationist was that of the necessary rehabilitation of wild animals into their natural habitat. Only then would any species flourish and resultantly keep the ecological balance intact and sustained. Khairi tiger with Saroj choudary ,(source- twitter.com) In the early seventies, along with Shri Saroj Raj Choudhary, Shri Fateh Singh Rathore who was the field director of Ranthambore and his legacy of creating Ranthambore tiger reserve in 1973 and Sri Kailash Sankhala, the first director of Project Tiger were men who played a fundamental and critical role in turning the tide for wildlife conservation in India. Fateh Singh Rathore (ranthambore reserve) ,(source - rajasthanbiodiversity.org) Kailash Sankhala ,(source – Wikipedia.org) However, over the years, an apparent complacency seems to have insidiously crept in. The fate of the tiger, especially in Orissa, has been shorn off the urgency and dedication, that had once enthralled the nation and acted as a guiding light in conservation. Much of this is due to bureaucratic indifference which means that decisions are not taken timely or holistically. A few examples will highlight what is wrong with tiger conservation in Odisha today. They are Nandan, MB2, and Sundari: A few years back, in 2013, a wild tiger had strayed from Satkosia forest range into the Nandan Kanan zoo and escaped after jumping off an 18 feet high wire-fence. A month later, the tiger again resurfaced in the safari after a while. A high-level technical committee, comprising the chief wildlife warden, zoo officials, a member nominated by the NTCA at a meeting on May 25, 2013, had decided that the tiger would remain in captivity till its original habitat was identified. Both the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), after a long-drawn debate, finally recommended that the wild tiger ‘Nandan’ be kept as a captive animal in the Nandankanan Zoological Park. In July 2018, the tigress ‘Sundari’ was shifted from MP's Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (BTR) to Satkosia Tiger Reserve (STR) in Odisha's Angul district and was released in the wild on July 6. She had been moved to Odisha a week after the translocation of MB2 - a male tiger from Kanha. This pair was part of the country's first inter-state tiger translocation project. Sundari was captured by Odisha forest officials on November 6, 2018, after it killed two people in the STR core area. MB2 suffered a worse fate - it was killed by poachers a week later. Since then, the tigress is in a soft enclosure in the Raigada range. After NTCA suspended the tiger translocation project at Satkosia for an indefinite period in 2019, a meeting over the restoration of the tigress back to Madhya Pradesh was also held last year. Officials from Kanha had visited Raigada to see the tigress. “They came and left. They might have communicated to NTCA. Now, NTCA will have to give a written instruction about dealing with Sundari,” the DFO said. So as on date, both Nandan and Sundari, instead of being rehabilitated in their natural habitat are held as captives and the male tiger, "MB2" dead! Nandan ,(source – merinews.com) File photo of MB2 ,(source- – timesofindia.indiantimes.com) These magnificent creatures stare at an uncertain future caused by bureaucratic indecisiveness. The longer the tigress Sundari is kept in captivity, the lesser chance she has of survival and adapting to the wild once again. The Government of Odisha has two very simple choices actually- either, it harks back to its tradition of being pre-eminent in tiger conservation since the days of Khairi or it allows itself to undermine this glorious tradition and be branded as indifferent to tiger conservation. But, then, this is the land of Lord Jaganath-- our rich tradition of compassion and tolerance flows from those all-seeing/pervasive eyes of the Lord. That divine benevolence will ensure that His magnificent creatures/creation will be restored to their home in the wild. That is my firm belief. Urging and appealing to the Government of Odisha to make this July 29th historic by addressing the case of the tigress Sundari, firmly and positively by immediately taking steps to rehabilitate and release Sundari into the wild where she belongs.