Sadly it's become necessary to update this post. On March 20th I heard the sad news from Ranthambhore that T28, also known as Star Male or Sitara, died of natural causes. Tragically, it was not natural causes. While the truth is sometimes hard to establish the events seem to have been thus: T28 was old but still in good physical condition. He'd been displaced from his territory around the lakes and had taken a less productive territory on the edge of the park. Like many tigers facing the same situation, T28 had taken some livestock to supplement his natural prey (it's only fair to state this). It appears that on the 20th, T28 was spotted in some fields near a village on the edge of the park. Very quickly a huge mob of men pretty much encircled the tiger in the field causing T28 to panic. At some stage the forest department (FD) were called and a couple of vehicles arrived and attempted to take control of the situation. They had no police support and no cooperation from the mob. As the situation deteriorated and T28's panic grew, the FD officers took the decision to tranquilise the tiger and remove him. This is always a risky procedure for the big cat.
T28 was darted and loaded into a vehicle but the mob turned on the FD. The mob would not let them leave apparently demanding compensation there and then for damage to the crop in the field. The FD officers did not have money to pay (this would have been settled by the FD through a standard claim procedure, like they do for the loss of livestock). The FD staff and vehicles were attacked with sticks and stones and they were forced to literally fight their way out of the mob. Tagically, by the time they had made their escape, T28, the Star Male had died while tranquilised. In a normal situation, a tranquilised tiger is closely monitored by qualified veterinary personnel in a controlled, calm environment. The FD officers did the best they could to avoid an incident whereby T28 came into violent contact with one of the mob, but they were prevented from caring for him while deeply asleep.
The mob are entirely to blame for his death. They could have easily driven T28 back toward the park but instead drove him to ground and surrounded him. They could have called the forest department and monitored his position. They could have let the FD do their job. T28 spent his life living in a territory through which hundreds and sometimes thousand of local pilgrims walked each day. This deep in a protected national park. He'd tolerated this without any conflict and never threatened the pilgrims who would have been easy prey if he or any other tiger so wanted.
It's a sad, sad end to a magnificent animal and a reminder yet again that we humans are the brutes.
My eulogy to Star:
T28 was the first Ranthambhore tiger we saw way back in 2009. It occurred on our first drive in the park after we'd spent about 3 hours attempting to see a couple of tigers that were hiding in long grass on the far side of Talo Padam lake. On our way out of the park we'd stopped at the entrance gate to Route 3 and were enjoying the parakeets and monkeys when the monkey troop when absolutely berserk barking alarm calls while looking over the opposite side of the wall. I ran over to look and there on the other side of the wall was T28 calmly walking passed me toward the fort. We rushed back to the jeep and set off along the road to intercept him, which we did. He was looking for a place to cross the road which had many pilgrims walking along it. They, like us, were looking to get a glimpse of him. I assume he waited until everyone had left before crossing.
Our first sighting of 28
Over the next seven visits to Ranthambhore we saw T28 on many occasions, in the hunting palace, mating with T17, and sometimes in the most surprising of places. He was the dominant male of the most prized territory in the national park, the lake area, for 7 to 8 years and was driven out of this territory in 2017. It was a remarkably long tenure and he was a real superstar.
T28 or Star male got his name from the very distinctive star shaped eye-brow stripes. It made him the most easily recognised male in the park. He lived a full and productive life which makes his passing sad but also something to celebrate. When the global population of wild tigers is still so low, each productive individual is invaluable.
Some of our sightings of the Star male