July 29, 2016


Indian newspapers carry daily reports on speculation about whereabouts of tiger, with millions following search online

- Agence France-Presse

Jai at the Umred Karhandla wildlife sanctuary. The animal has not been
for three months, sparking a huge search.
Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images
A search is under way in India for the country’s most famous tiger, with millions of adoring fans worried about the big cat known as Jai who went missing three months ago.

Named after Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s character in the hit 1975 film Sholay, the tiger shot to nationwide fame three years ago after embarking on an epic hike through villages, rivers and perilously dangerous highways in successful pursuit of a mate.

A firm favourite with tourists and conservationists alike, the seven-year-old, 250kg big cat was last seen at the Umred Karhandla wildlife sanctuary, where he usually lives, on 18 April.

Wildlife officials in the western state of Maharashtra launched a search operation, hoping to find the beloved animal by Friday – International Tiger Day – but admit they are clueless as to his fate.

“Whether he has moved to forest interiors or is with a new mate, no information is available as of yet,” said MS Reddy, a tiger expert helping the search.

Forestry rangers said they first became worried about Jai’s fate after his electronic collar stopped transmitting his location three months ago, while tourist sightings of the animal have dried up.

The state government has offered a reward of 50,000 rupees ($745) for information on Jai’s location, a small fortune for the hundreds of local villagers engaged in the hunt.

Indian newspapers are carrying daily reports on the latest speculation about where Jai may be or what fate might have befallen him with some claiming reported, but unconfirmed, sightings.

In the eastern district of Nagpur this week, home to the Umred Karhandla sanctuary, worried locals held a pooja, or ceremony, praying that he would be found safe.

Some devotees threw religious offerings onto a fire while others held up posters of the missing beast. A small boy was seen stroking a tiger soft toy in local online news clips of the event.

Jai has been credited with both boosting tourism and helping to repopulate India’s tiger population.

“He’s successfully fathered more than 20 cubs and has boosted the local economy by attracting wildlife enthusiasts,” said Rohit Karoo, a conservationist helping co-ordinate the hunt.

“Losing such a majestic tiger would be a great loss for India.”

Karoo said no stone was being left unturned in the bid to track Jai down in a search extending over several hundred kilometres.

“Around ten non-governmental organisations, locals from nearly four hundred villages and forest officials are patrolling the forests in Maharashtra to locate Jai,” he told AFP on Thursday.

India is home to around 2,200 tigers, representing 70% of the world’s endangered tiger population.

Some reports have speculated that Jai may have been wounded in a fight with another tiger, poached by hunters involved in the illegal trade of endangered wildlife or merely fallen sick.

However, Karoo was quick to quash such rumours.

“I don’t think anything bad has befallen him as he is a dominant male tiger with the capacity to travel large distances,” he said.