As tiger evades eyes of a village, officials turn to thermal drones – The New Indian Express

Around 1pm on Saturday, the eerie silence of Kurukkanmoola was broken by loud cheering of people and the bursting of crackers in the nearby Begur reserve forest.
Published: 19th December 2021 01:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th December 2021 03:05 AM   |  A+A-
Forest and Wildlife officials comb the Begur reserve forest near Kaveripoyil in Wayanad for the elusive tiger on Saturday | T P Sooraj
MANANTHAVADY:  Around 1pm on Saturday, the eerie silence of Kurukkanmoola was broken by loud cheering of people and the bursting of crackers in the nearby Begur reserve forest. They must have caught the tiger, said farmer-couple Johnny A, 65, and Shiny, 51. The tiger had killed their 100-kg Holstein Friesian calf in the early hours of December 10.
Their hope of forest officials nabbing the tiger was dashed after a phone call. The bursting of crackers was not a celebration but an attempt of the forest officials to scare out the elusive tiger, said D K Vinod Kumar, chief conservator of Forests, northern circle, Kannur.

He is leading a team of 260 Forest officials, combing the five divisions of Mananthavady municipality where the tiger has left a trail. Since November 29, the tiger has killed 17 cows and goats but has never been sighted.
The forest department has installed nearly 90 cameras, set up five cages, and deployed drones. But the tiger has been caught on camera only once. At Puthiyidam, a CCTV camera of a stone crusher caught a fleeting image of a fast-moving tiger. “We cannot be sure if it is the same tiger we are looking for. This forest has around 120 tigers,” said Vinod Kumar.
The forest department is now sourcing thermal drones from Delhi to deploy in the night. Regular drones are not effective as the tiger is adept at camouflaging itself. 
Elusive big cat ‘anonymous’: Officials
The elusive tiger is anonymous, as in, it was not counted in the previous tiger Census. So, it does not have a number. After it started lifting domestic animals, it was caught on camera once, and it had a deep wound around its neck, possibly from a snare that it managed to snap, said chief forest veterinary officer Arun Zachariah, who is also part of the tracking team.
“But two months ago, it was caught in a camera inside the forest and it did not have an injury. So it was not always a stray,” said Vinod Kumar. According to the pugmarks, the tiger is a female. Female tigers leave rectangular pugmarks and male tigers leave square pugmarks, he said. It could be around eight to 10 years old, which is the average age of a tiger in the wild.
The officials zeroed in on the age by analysing the bite marks on its prey. “Its two lower teeth are missing. Tigers shed their teeth when they hit nine years,” said Vinod Kumar. The tiger is not taking the bait. Officials had left five cages with goats as baits. Though its pugmarks were spotted near the cages it never took the bait. “The snare might have made it more alert,” said Dr Zachariah.
Officials have almost given up on cages. “We are now planning to make it uncomfortable by creating noises so that it will get out of its hideout. Once out, we can tranquilise it,” said Vinod Kumar. In the past 20 days of the search operation, the tiger was not sighted even once.
When it comes to tigers, there are four types of conflict situations, said Dr Zachariah. One, floaters, usually young tigers chased out of the forest by their rivals — they usually hide in abandoned estates. Two, aged tigers — they prey on domestic animals. Three, sneakers — they move fast, won’t return to eat their kill, could be diseased or injured.
The fourth comprise maneaters. “Our tiger is a sneaker. It does not confront humans even if we are close by. That is why it has evaded our darts.” Though the tiger is wounded, that has not yet weakened it. It moves fast. Its pugmarks were spotted 6km away from the forest, said Narendra Babu, Wayanad Wildlife warden. He is now sourcing thermal drones from Delhi to deploy in the night.
Regular drones are not effective as the tiger is adept at camouflaging itself. “Infrared thermal drones will help us launch night-time searching,” he said. As of now, forest officials do the combing operation during the day and stay guard during the night. “That is one of the main reasons residents are angry with us. They want us to conduct night-time combing. We are not equipped to do that,” said an ace tracker with the search team.
Locals form teams to guard livestock
The residents of Kurukkanmoola were expecting the tiger to strike on Saturday night because it has not eaten after the Thursday’s kill. They have formed teams to guard their livestock. They also burnt firewood through the night to keep vigil. 

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