At a time when the world continues to campaign for saving the big cat in the wild, bad news came in when it was public that the world’s oldest tigress, the legendary Machhli died in Ranthambhore National Park in Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan.
Machhli, a majestic tigress who walked the earth had been ill off late and had been under medical care. Weeks back the world had been informed that perhaps it was time to bid the tigress goodbye. For nearly five days she had stopped eating. Often referred to as T 16 or the Queen of Ranthambhore, the tigress was named Machhli by Colin Patrick Stafford-Johnson, a cinematographer who went on to do five documentaries on her after spotting what looked like an ‘angel fish’ on her cheek. Another name she boasted off was ‘the lady of the lake’ for her love for water bodies.
Other legend to her name is that late field director Fateh Singh Rathore gave her the name as her mother had a fish-like design on her face and machhli means fish.
Machhli had the dubious distinction of being the world’s most photographed wild cat and had a postage stamp and several documentary films on her name. Wildlife lovers tracked her movements through a dedicated page she had on Facebook.
Machhli gave Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve 11 tiger cubs, including seven females and four males. If numbers are anything to go by then she was contributing Rs.65 crore a year as tourism revenue to the National Park for nearly a decade.
In one of the most valiant fights of all time that lasted for an hour, Machhli is believed to have ripped apart a crocodile, which sadly caused her to lose all her canines. The battle with a 14 foot crocodile in the bed of a lake was famously captured on film. She was given baits to ensure her survival. Macchli is believed to have had enjoyed equal command over the tigers and she wielded power with her iron paw.
Many of Ranthambore’s tigers carry Machhli’s bloodline. Officials report about half of the tigers in Ranthambore are related to Macchli.
Royal Bengal Tigers have a lifespan of only 15 years, but Macchli continued to thrive even as she aged.
The reputed Rajbagh Palace those tracking her say had become a citadel for her till 2011.
Poachers had been rampant at the turn of the century and by 2004, Sariska tiger reserve lost all its tigers and Ranthambhore lost half of its tigers for the same reason.
Machhli survived this crisis smartly and her remarkable reproductive success rejuvenated the tiger population in the area.
By the age of 12 she was worn out and lost sight in one eye.
Opinion pieces read – No scientist, conservationist, NGO or forest department has ever contributed to Ranthambhore and its success like Machhli.
It was in early 2014 that she was thought to be dead spreading panic as she was not spotted for close to 26 days but soon she emerged.
In April 2016, World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum together declared an increase in the number of tiger population worldwide. But those in the know in India have been reluctant to believe this assertion.
India for the last half a century has been investing more money, manpower, and political backing for tiger conservation with noticeable results – reads an article.
As per latest official estimates, India is home to 2,226 tigers, representing 70% of the global population of the endangered species.
WWF reports show a 22 percent increase in tiger population worldwide and it is said to be quite believable.
But the recent deaths in Kanha Tiger reserve have been a cause of concern. Wildlife experts say 30 or more animals have been poached in the last seven months posing a dilemma for tiger conservationists.
The global wild tiger population is estimated to be less than 4,000. The tigers or the big cats face danger of trade for nearly all body parts – from skins and bones to teeth and claws which are traded by criminals for big moolah.
Tiger farms have expanded rapidly over the last few decades. In four tiger farming countries there are approximately 7,000 – 8,000 captive tigers in tiger farms, zoos and smaller facilities.
While India and the world mourns the death of Machhli, there is also greater need to do every bit to ensure poaching and tiger farming are things that are done away with. This will be the best way to give Her Majesty Machhli a befitting tribute. For now Machhli has walked away to the wilderness of death.