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India’s oldest tigress dies aged 19, leaving behind remarkable conservation legacy

India’s oldest tigress dies aged 19, leaving behind remarkable conservation legacy

India’s oldest tigress, known for birthing dozens of cubs and credited with reviving a barren Sariska tiger reserve in the western state of Rajasthan, died aged 19 after succumbing to injuries and illness.

Known as Rajmata, or the king’s mother, and marked as ST-2 at the Sariska Tiger Reserve, the popular tigress died on Tuesday evening in an enclosure where she was kept for three months for medical treatment, district forest officer DP Jagawat said.

Wildlife doctors monitoring her declared the 19-year-old tigress dead after no movement was observed during a checkup, officials said, confirming she succumbed to her injuries on her tail. She was kept in an enclosure for around 113 days, restricting her movement in the wild.

The daughter of the world’s most photographed tigress Machli from Ranthambore, ST-2 was the second tigress to enter the Sariska Tiger Reserve in India’s repopulation attempt of the park which saw a full extinction of its big cats due to a deadly poaching racket. After suffering an injury, she was being monitored by a committee of doctors.

“She was declared dead in her enclosure at 5pm. After no movement was recorded since morning, a team of officials entered the enclosure and checked her thoroughly to find out she was no more. The post-mortem will be conducted by the medical board on Wednesday," according to an official statement released by the reserve.

Officials in Sariska tiger reserve inspect the remains of ST-2 in India’s Rajasthan (Sourced/ The Independent)
Officials in Sariska tiger reserve inspect the remains of ST-2 in India’s Rajasthan (Sourced/ The Independent)

India’s Sariska National Park has had a troubled history of preserving its tiger population in the face of a notorious local challenge of poachers who trap the animals and use their body parts for illegal sale. In 2004, officials combed every swathe of the park but could not find even a single tiger and confirmed that poaching had eliminated all the big cats in the region.

Sariska earned the unwelcome accolade of being the only tiger reserve since India’s independence not to have any tigers and building the population back up has been a huge undertaking.

Indian officials relied on reintroduction of mating adults from Ranthambore and other more abundant reserves to give Sariska a fresh breath of life.

ST-2 was the first tigress they shifted to Sariska on 4 July in 2008 from neighbouring Ranthambore national park, giving the reserve a new lease of life. She gave birth to 25 out of the 30 cubs born in the park, including some of the legendary tigers to have walked Sariska, including ST-7, ST-8, ST-13 and ST-14.

She also went on to live till 19 years of age, a rare occurence among tigers population who have an average life span of 14 to 15 years.