The mysterious disappearance of F103
11, Mar 2019
A Royal Bengal tigress, F03, that strayed out of north-central Assam’s Orang National Park 16 months ago, had set off one of the biggest operations in the State to trap the big cat. For more than a year, the tigress outsmarted some of the country’s best feline experts and made the Assam Forest Department spend a fortune in the effort.
But she has virtually fallen off the radar since killing a pig in Darrang district’s Borgora Tea Estate on December 4 last year.
Her last kill was about 3 km south-west of Borobazar’s Simlagui in the adjoining Udalguri district where she had preyed on a cow to trigger a “wild cat chase”. The 78.81 sq km Orang, about 110 km north-east of Guwahati, is a tiger reserve as well as a prime one-horned rhino habitat.
F03’s last few kills – all pigs – were in that direction, indicating she might have returned to Orang from where she had strayed out of. The park is another 3 km beyond the tea estate and across the river Dhansiri.
Too old for cattle?
F03’s first kill outside Orang was on November 11, 2017. Her strike did not cause a flutter in the area dominated by the Bodo community. Officials attributed this to an age-old belief that the big cats are occasional guests nature sends for satisfying hunger.
A year later, around the same time Avni the tigress was gunned down in Maharashtra and angry villagers crushed an alleged man-eater under a tractor in Uttar Pradesh, F03 failed to kill a cow in a village between Borobazar and the tea estate.
The tigress could not plant her teeth on the cow and only managed to scratch her. That could have made her feel she was too old for cattle as she began preying on pigs, invariably those that were tied up.
A wild tiger’s life span is an average of 20 years.
Forest officials do not rule out the possibility of the tigress having crossed the Brahmaputra on the southern edge of Orang and taken refuge in Kaziranga National Park on the other banks. During winter, when water levels in the Brahmaputra fall, tigers, rhinos, elephants, and deer too use the sandbars to move between the wildlife preserves.