Chicken, my foot! I'm not leopard: Diary of a distraught tiger in Kerala

A leopard may look similar to a tiger but they come from totally different backgrounds.

(Editor's note: Reports of the presence of a tiger in the human habitats in Vadasserikkara in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district have been giving sleepless nights to residents and forest personnel for the past one week. Armed forest officials have launched a combing operation to trap the beast. In this context, we are publishing a fictional tiger trail written by Malayala Manorama reporter A S Ullas, who has been closely following the efforts to find the big cat.)

Before you accuse me of straying into human territory, take a look around you. The rubber plantation has become an overgrown forest. Who is tapping the trees when prices are so low? Now, tell me how am I supposed to know where the actual forest ends and the rubber plantation starts. After all, we wild animals do not carry GPS devices to keep track of the forest fringes. We might have crossed over a bit.

More worrying was the trend to hold me responsible for any and every misfortune faced by the people. Someone said I slapped open a chicken coop at Kudappanakkulam and made away with chicken. Come on, folks. I am a tiger! I do not hunt chicken. Your culprit might be some leopard cub.

A leopard may look similar to me but we come from totally different backgrounds. Ask wildlife expert Dr Arun Zacharia or range officer Hashim if you want to know where I come from. I do not look for anything smaller than a sambar deer or a gaur. The forest officers eventually hypothesised that the chicken might have ended up in a leopard’s stomach. Thank goodness!

As we grow old, we might find it difficult to hunt big game. That is when we settle for smaller bites. I am not older than 10 years, as the forest officers have estimated. I am still in my prime. Tigers do not bother to attack humans even if they stray too close. Experts know all these things.

Agreed, I goofed up at Medappara. But that was a one-off case. If you look at my route map, you will see that humans had come near me even after that incident. I just moved away. A policeman spotted me on the same day. I just walked away. I toppled a motorbike near Pullippara at 5 pm. The forest officers who were looking for the motorbike also spotted me. I slipped away. I pried open the motorbike’s seat cover but I left it there itself. What am I going to do with it?

That night, around 11 pm, I sauntered into the porch of a house. I planned to lie down for a while. Bad luck! I ended up knocking down a vessel. That noise woke up a boy, who opened the door to find me. He was so close. I ran for my life.

You later sent up a drone to spot me. I was lounging in a clearing some 350 metres away from Medappara. I did not go anywhere.

On May 9, I ventured into Anchukuzhi at night. I was crossing the backyard of a house when the pet dog started barking furiously. I was about 200 metres away from the house. The dog managed to draw its master out of the house. He started checking the darkness with his torchlight. He caught me by the light. The next second he was fleeing to his house. I too went away.

Had I been a leopard, that dog would be no more. Leopards love to eat dogs and goats. We do not even touch them. The next night, I was in the Thannithode area, some 9 kilometres away from Anchukuzhi. Around midnight, I tracked a smell. It was a calf. Don’t know why, I killed it. I did not stay to dinner though. A calf is hardly on my menu.

When I went to Vadasserikkara, there were some rubber tappers going about their work. I swear I did not do anything. They were spooked at my sight. Now I hear that a trap is being set for me, complete with a calf as a bait. I follow my sense of smell. Don’t know what is in store for me.

Anyway, this is not so bad a time. Earlier, when a tiger strayed into human territory, it would be greeted by a hostile crowd. Not so much now. Even the random people I encounter are not drunk and boisterous. Maybe it is the lockdown effect. The people’s representatives have visited the panic-stricken area. If you take my advice, do not expect to catch a tiger in a trap meant for a leopard. We are a different species. I am known for my keen senses. I just need a shadow to persist. You would not even see me. I am not crouching all day. I take rest in the day and roam around at night. That is what tigers do.

Catch ya later, if no one shoots me with a tranquilizer dart before that.

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