New Delhi: India is preparing guidelines that will for the first time apprise tiger reserve officials on how to deal with abandoned and orphaned cubs so they survive for longer periods.
"We regularly face situations where cubs are found abandoned in tiger reserves for various reasons like the death of the mother, the mother going missing or even cases where weak cubs are deserted by the mother," an environment ministry official told IANS, requesting anonymity.
"The problem is that tiger reserve officials don`t know how to handle such cases. Most of the times, the cubs end up in zoos where they are kept in captivity away from their natural habitat," the official said.
As many such cases emerged, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) prepared a draft of standard operating procedure (SOP) to deal with abandoned cubs.
The draft has been circulated to experts and field officers for their feedback before it is finalised.
India is home to the world`s largest tiger population, with 1,706 living in the wild across 42 tiger reserves. But the figure is almost a 10th of what it was say half a century ago.
"Saving each cub is important for the success of tiger conservation. You cannot leave the cubs directly in the wild as they cannot survive on their own and also face a threat from other male tigers," the official said.
"As of now, various practices are prevalent in tiger reserves in cases of abandoned cubs. Some keep them in enclosure and feed them flesh while in some they are left in the wild but under constant vigil," he said.
The guidelines will deal with how the cubs can be kept so that they can survive in the wild and don`t get human friendly.
"A mother teaches cubs hunting and how to survive in the wild. But with the mother gone, we have to initially train them in everything -- but keeping in mind that they don`t become human friendly lest they start venturing into human habitation," the official said.
Eminent wildlife expert and former director of Project Tiger PK Sen welcomed the move, saying it was an attempt to save abandoned cubs.
"There had been instances in the past when orphaned cubs were brought up in enclosed areas in the tiger reserves before being introduced in the wild and they survived. It is a good effort that NTCA is coming up with a set procedure to handle them," Sen told IANS.
Tiger conservation in India began in 1973 with the launch of Project Tiger. Considering the urgency of the situation, Project Tiger was converted into NTCA, a statutory authority, in 2006 with more power and separate funding.
The main achievements of Project Tiger are excellent recovery of the habitat and consequent increase in the tiger population in the reserve areas - from a mere 268 in nine reserves in 1972 to 1,706 in 42 tiger reserves in 2012.