T-24 Ustad is a strong and gorgeous male tiger that controlled the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve for 9 years. He was born in 2005 to tiger T20 (Jhumroo) and tigress T22 (Gayatri). He enjoyed a happy life with his companion T-39 (Noor), and thundered over his territory without much competition from other male tigers, save for a few brief squabbles with his sister T25 (Zaalim).
T-24, a once-rising star of the Ranthambore Reserve, was nicknamed ‘Ustad’ by the villagers due to his free attitude. He was always a little different from other tigers in that he would drag his prey towards the road to eat it in full front of the people.He would also not flee the route when he saw humans approaching, like other tigers did. Despite his unusual behaviour, he was a significant draw in Ranthambore National Park and was adored by wildlife enthusiasts and photographers.
What propelled Ustad T-24 to prominence?
Ustad, a majestic and brave man, shot and murdered an experienced forest guard, Rampal Saini, on the fateful day of May 8, 2015. Rampal, a fearless forest guard, lived bravely among tigers, but after seeing T-24’s dangerous tactics and shifting behaviour over the previous several years, his family stated that even he felt worried and afraid at times.
On May 8, Rampal went to hunt for Ustad at a waterbody along the 4 mile Ranthambore Fort road, which is frequented by numerous worshippers visiting the Ganesha Temple inside the reserve borders, and was mauled to death by the fearsome tiger.
This was not Ustad’s first known attack; he had previously been accused with killing two villagers in July 2010 and March 2012, respectively, as well as another forest guard in October 2012.
Tigers are often wary of people and avoid conflict with them unless they are threatened, but T-24 was an exception. According to people living near the Tiger Reserve, Ustad has become increasingly vicious and aggressive in recent years.
What turned Ustad into a man-eater?
The ever-changing behaviour of Ustad, according to well-known environmentalists Dharmendra Khandal and Raza Tehsin, has a lot to do with him being tranquillized and kept to a cage for several consecutive days, very regularly throughout these years.
Whether it was for his damaged paw, constipation, or the placement of a radio collar on him, the repeated incidents of tranquilizations and injections took a toll on his natural behaviour. The relocation of eight tigers from his clan to other wildlife reserves, which disrupted his family structure in his early years, also contributed to his wild behaviour toward humans.
What prompted Ustad’s departure from Ranthambore?
Following the March 2012 incident, a recommendation was given to the NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) recommending that Ustad be relocated to a remote site immediately before he might prey on another person.
However, labelling a tiger as a man-eater was against NTCA and forest officials’ laws. As a result, Ustad was given unfettered access to the forest reserve.
May 2015 was a watershed moment for people suffering from the escalating horror of Ustad; after seeing yet another loss of human life at the hands of this ferocious beast, resentment among villagers and forest guards was palpable.
On May 16, 2015, in response to concerns from locals and other forest guards patrolling T-24 territory, Ustad was relocated to Sajjangarh Biological Park near Udaipur. Ustad was confined to a natural enclosure spread over an area of less than a hectare at the biological park, which was located 400 kilometres from the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and away from human settlements, in contrast to the 5000 hectare of Ranthambore, where he spent his life as the ‘King of Jungle.’
The relocation of Ustad to a separate zone sparked indignation among wildlife specialists and photographers. T-24, one of the Ranthambore Reserve’s most attractive male tigers, was an eye-candy and a treat for wildlife fans who came to Ranthambore solely to see him.
With his unrivalled charm and bravado, Ustad had surely amassed a sizable fan base. The moniker ‘MANEATER’ for Ustad appeared inedible to his supporters. According to Ustad’s followers, the deaths ascribed to him were unintentional.
They also stated that the tiger never strayed outside of his region in search of humans to kill, nor did he ever attempt to kill any of the thousands of people that frequent the path to the temple and fort that falls inside his zone.
Bina Kak, Rajasthan’s former Environment Minister, remained steadfast in favour of the tiger, holding photographs of him going gently by a group of local ladies bringing water.
Many rallies and massive demonstrations were held in support of Ustad’s return to his old grounds, particularly on social media.
Candle marches and demonstrations in favour of T24 helped disseminate his message throughout the world. International television networks such as BBC and Al Jazeera aired his full narrative, bringing Ustad worldwide celebrity.
In support of the protests, a Pune resident and tiger enthusiast, Chandra Bhal Singh, petitioned the Supreme Court against the state forest department and Ranthambore forest authorities for moving Ustad clandestinely and suddenly to Udaipur Biological Park without even waiting for NTCA authorisation.
Later, an RTI request was made to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, demanding answers from the state government for quickly relocating Ustad without notifying the appropriate authorities. While the case is still being considered, a committee has been formed to investigate T24’s rehabilitation.
What are the opinions of tiger specialists and wildlife conservationists on Ustad’s relocation?
Contrary to Ustad’s supporters’ claims, neighbouring villages claimed to have been pursued by Ustad several times when coming from work in the nights. Dharmendar Khandal, an expert wildlife scientist who has been researching tigers and the ecosystem of Ranthambore Reserve for many years, witnessed Ustad sucking Rampal Saini’s blood.
Even famous tiger specialist Valmik Thapar couldn’t help but admit that he had always sensed danger in Ustad’s eyes.
What is the most recent news about Ustad?
On May 28, 2015, the Jaipur High Court ruled that the relocation of Tiger T-24 to Udaipur’s Sajjangarh Zoo was legitimate, and it was up to Ranthambore Tiger Reserve officials to make the final decision. Activists, on the other hand, are continuing to fight the case in court. However, they have not had much success thus far.
He was not only the only tiger to be featured on India Today, but he also drew the attention of the Delhi High Court, the Jaipur High Court, and the Supreme Court of India. For the time being, he remains at Udaipur’s Sajjangarh Zoo.
Some stimulating questions
While the state forest department and the NTCA continue to argue about the legal processes and laws that should have been followed in relocating T24 to a new zone, we are left with many unresolved issues.
Was the state government correct in deciding to remove a tiger that had become a menace to human life? Was the forest department’s decision affected by the pressure of hotels who saw Ustad as a danger to their business? Had Ustad really become a man eater? There are plenty other unsolved questions.However, it is past time for people to recognise the significance of preserving a perfect balance in the environment. Whether or not Ustad was a man-eater, if we do not change our ways of poaching and disrupting the territories of these wild creatures, it may not be long before another report of a tiger murdering a man reaches the news.