A tiger has made a record-breaking journey across India, trekking over 1,300 paw-aching kilometers (807 miles) in just five months, the longest walk ever recorded in India according to reports. Why all the effort, you might wonder? Obviously, for food and sex.
Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, a national park in the western state of Maharashtra, has been keeping tabs on a group of tigers using radio collars. Among them is a 2.5year-old male known as C1, reports Times Of India.
Around June this year, C1 left its home in the sanctuary and embarked on a winding journey around the region's farms, roads, hills, and waterways. Over the following five months, the young tiger walked through seven districts in the states of Maharashtra and Telangana, before arriving in the Dnyanganga sanctuary on December 1.
"The tiger is possibly looking for territory, food, and a mate. Most of the potential tiger areas [in India] are full and new tigers have to explore more," Dr Bilal Habib, a senior biologist with the Wildlife Institute of India, told BBC News.
The animal lived on a diet of wild pigs and cattle to fuel its journey. It managed to remain mostly undetected by locals, sneaking through farms and backyards without a trace. However, there was one run-in with humans in Hingoli district, which resulted in a man being injured.
Tigers (Panthera tigris) are listed as an endangered species under the IUCN Red List. There are an estimated 2,100 to 3,100 individuals left in the wild, most of which live in severely fragmented populations across India, Nepal, China, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, and few other Asian countries.
Globally, population numbers are slipping, except for India where these big cats appear to have had a meteoric resurgence in the past few years. In July 2019, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi announced that tiger populations had increased by one-third, rising from 2,226 individuals in 2014 to 2,967 in 2018, though there are claims these numbers have been exaggerated.
While the return of tigers to India is undoubtedly welcome news to conservationists and animal lovers, it is bringing new challenges. The continued growth of cities, paired with the loss of natural habitat, is resulting in increasing human-tiger conflicts. A 2-year killing spree that resulted in the deaths of at least 13 people came to an end in November 2018 after a tiger known as "Avni" was shot in the jungles of Maharashtra.
As the story of C1’s journey shows, the environmental changes are also having a profound effect on the tigers' long-held range and migrations.
“It indicates that the tigers may have to cover much longer distances and cross the human-dominated, non-forested landscapes in the pursuit of its new territory and mates, much beyond our traditional understanding," Govekar Ravikiran, the Field Director of Pench Tiger Reserve, said in a press release given to Times Of India.