Abandoned tiger cub develops cataract, rewilding prospects hit


The ambitious programme of the Kerala forest department to reintroduce to the wild an abandoned tiger cub named Mangala in Periyar Tiger Reserve suffered a jolt after it developed serious cataract, a senior official said adding that in the present situation, chances of releasing her in the wild are slim.

HT had reported in June 2021 that the cub was around two months old when two forest guards on patrol duty had spotted her in November 2020. The hind legs were paralysed, she had issues with vision and had suffered some injuries. At the time, forest officials had told HT it was difficult for the cub to survive but the ramped up efforts to treat her.

They named her Mangala since she was found near the Mangala Devi temple near Kumily (Idukki).

Now, the forest department is planning to import a drug from the United States called Lanosterol, which experts said can help dissolve the cataract to an extent. An expert committee has been formed to study the future of the rewilding — as the process of reintroducing animals to the wild in known — in the prevailing circumstances, the senior official who did not want to be quoted said.

“Its vision was blocked about 80 per cent at one point but after intense treatment, it came down to 60%. Chances of releasing it in the wild are ruled out in the present scenario. We are hoping against hope,” said the official. C

Chief veterinary officer Arun Zacharia however is still optimistic about the rewilding process. “When it was recovered in November 2020, it was staring at imminent death. Its hind legs were paralysed and its vision was poor. Mother usually abandons its cub in extreme situation. We brought her back to life and she has started showing wild instincts fast,” said Zacharia.

He said Lanosterol was being imported because surgery was not possible. “The medicine is not used in India and we heard it is very effective in fighting cataract. We hope it will help regain its vision fast,” he said. Officials said cost of a 5 ml vial of Lanosterol is around 16,000.

Intensive treatment and physiotherapy had restored her hind legs in six months. At one point, three veterinary doctors and three foresters were at her disposal and a physiotherapist was engaged to rectify her limp, he said.

Now, 14-month old Mangala weighs a healthy 50 kg and is kept in a natural enclosure. Officials said her wilding lessons were on track and were planning to release her into the wild once she attained the age of two years. Now however, the process will be delayed.

“We have created a small natural forest near her present enclosure and started releasing small prey to acclimatise her with wild surroundings. She has passed a least half of her lessons despite her poor sight. She has won many battles; we hope she will come out this malady also,” said the senior official.

Rewilding is a tiresome process aimed at restoring wilderness areas and atmosphere.It includes connecting such areas and protecting or reintroducing key predators and prey.

The most high-profile experiment to rewild tigers was in Madhya Pradesh, where two tiger cubs were found abandoned in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in 2017. They were one and a half months old. The two cubs, however, did not become used to the idea of killing their prey and were eventually shifted to Bhopal’s zoological park in 2020.

In Maharashtra, attempts to rewild cubs have not succeeded. The cub of tigress Avni, who was hunted down in November 2018, was not able to survive in the wild and had to be sent to a zoo. In Pench, a male cub had to be sent to a zoo as he was not able to survive in the wilderness. However, Malini, a tigress, adapted to the wild easily after being kept in an enclosure for several months.

Much before her, a hand-reared orphaned cub was successfully re-introduced in the Panna Tiger Reserve in 2010 and it mated with a tigress from Bandhavgarh a year later, reviving the tiger population in the Madhya Pradesh reserve that had lost all tigers in 2008.

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