A tiger crossed three states and traversed almost 2000 km to find its territory. This recent news appeared in the newspaper. What causes these tigers to travel extensively? Is it due to a lack of suitable habitat, the need to avoid intraspecific conflict, to find a mate, or other reasons that compel them to roam extensively in search of their own territory? In this blog, I will attempt to answer these questions and also explore instances where tigers have crossed not only protected areas but also states and entire landscapes.
Tigers are highly territorial animals and often come into conflict with members of their own species, leading to the dispersal of tigers in India. These conflicts force weaker or older tigers to leave their territories and seek another area. A territory needs to fulfill three basic requirements for tigers: food, mates, and water. Additionally, tigers require adequate cover for ambushing prey or protecting themselves and their cubs from humans and other predators. Finding a place that meets all these requirements is challenging, especially in tiger reserves where prime areas are often occupied by resident tigers. Sometimes, an area may seem suitable, but extensive human presence poses a challenge. The absence of basic requirements compels tigers to keep wandering. You may also like to read our blog post on How To Track Tigers Through Pug Marks & Alarm Calls.
On average, adult male tigers cannot maintain their territory for more than 2-4 years before losing it to more competitive rivals. There are exceptions, such as dominant male tigers like the Umarpani male in Kanha, who held his territory for 6-7 years. Similarly, B2 in Bandhavgarh and Munaa in Kanha held their territories for 7-8 years. In contrast, females can hold territories for 5-7 years, significantly longer than males. Females are less aggressive, and their territories often overlap with other related females.
Tigers can be categorized into four age classes: Cubs (<12 months old), juveniles (12–24-month-old pre-dispersal tigers), transients (> 24-month-old dispersing tigers that do not breed or hold stable home ranges), and resident breeders (tigers that maintain stable ranges and reproduce).
Transients or floaters are tigers that travel extensively in search of a territory. Even adult residents become floaters when ousted from their territory, yet their experience minimizes conflicts with humans while traversing human-dominated landscapes.
Tigers are vulnerable when crossing villages, towns, or cities, often leading to conflicts with humans, resulting in the tigers being labeled as man-eaters or cattle lifters, sometimes ending up in captivity.
Advancements in wildlife sciences have unveiled instances where the dispersal of tigers in India has shown these majestic creatures traveling long distances, crossing villages, rivers, towns, and cities without conflicts with humans. A photographic database helps trace their origin. Once their presence is detected, the concerned state’s forest department monitors these animals to prevent conflicts with the local populace. Here, I will discuss some recorded long-distance travels of tigers, where they crossed different protected areas, forests, and even landscapes. Also Read: Understanding Man-Eating Tigers Of India : Causes & Impacts.
Tadoba to Odisha-Andhra Border (2000 Kms.)
Date: November 2023
A male tiger from Brahmapuri in the Tadoba landscape crossed four states, covering approximately 2000 kilometers and was found near the Odisha and Andhra Border. While not the longest, this marks the second-longest migration of a tiger in India. During this journey, the tiger likely encountered obstacles such as water bodies, mines, rivers, agricultural fields, roads, and human habitation.
The tiger was initially camera-trapped in Brahmapuri in Tadoba in 2021, as per the All India tiger estimation database. It was first sighted in Odisha in June-July, crossed the Andhra border, reported there in August, then reappeared in Odisha in September. It is reported that the tiger walks around 25-30 kilometers per day and relies on cattle kills for sustenance. Due to monitoring by the forest department, timely compensation is provided to villagers, helping prevent conflicts. There is hope that this tiger will soon find a suitable habitat, fostering genetic exchange between two tiger populations. You may also like our blog post on The Legend of the Champawat Tiger – Terror, Tragedy, and Triumph.
Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary to Dnyanganga Wildlife Sanctuary (3000 Kms. journey)
Date: April 2020
A young male tiger from Tipeshwar, radio-collared in February 2019 and named C1, ventured out of the sanctuary in June 2019, embarking on a remarkable journey covering 3000 kilometers to reach Dnyanganga Wildlife Sanctuary by April 2020. This migration stands as one of the longest recorded for a tiger using camera traps and a radio collar. Although he initially arrived at the sanctuary in November after traveling 1300 kilometers, he continued his journey, reaching Ajanta hills. Subsequently, he retraced his path and returned to Dnyanganga Wildlife Sanctuary. Along the way, he explored Painganga Wildlife Sanctuary and Kawal Tiger Reserve.
Given his status as a radio-collared tiger, tracking his movements posed no significant challenge for the forest department. He established his territory within the sanctuary, utilizing an area of 50 square kilometers. The state forest department and the Wildlife Institute of India closely monitored his activities.
Chandrapur to Sarni (510 Kms.)
Date: December 2018
A young male tiger, approximately two years old, commenced a journey from Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station, covering around 510 kms within four months, ultimately arriving at the Satpura Power Station in Sarni, Madhya Pradesh. Despite coming close to the Satpura Tiger Reserve, he bypassed it, opting to travel an additional 40 kms to reach Sarni. It was noted that due to being born and raised near the Thermal Power Station, he chose to establish his territory in a similar environment.
Regrettably, during his journey, he killed two farmers, compelling the forest department to tranquilize and capture this young and inexperienced male tiger.
Bandipur Tiger Reserve to Shimoga (280 kms.)
Date: May 2011
This male tiger, originally from Bandipur Tiger Reserve, was captured in Shimoga after fatally injuring a man. Dr. Ullas Karanth, a world-renowned tiger biologist, stated, ‘When we searched our database using images of this tiger, it yielded a match. It turned out to be a young male that my team camera-trapped in February 2010 on the outskirts of Bandipur Tiger Reserve.’ According to Karanth, the linear distance from Bandipur to Shimoga is 280 kms, indicating that the tiger traveled a much greater distance. Subsequently, the tiger was released into Bhadra Tiger Reserve.
Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary to Santrampur (300 kms.)
Date: February 2019
“This tiger is from Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area proposed to become a tiger reserve situated in the Vindhyachal mountain range of central Indian highlands. The Vindhyachal mountains span over 1000 kms from Gujarat to eastern Uttar Pradesh through Madhya Pradesh. This mountain range was once a tiger stronghold, but now only a few protected areas, namely Panna Tiger Reserve, Ratapani WLS, and Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, host a sizable tiger population.
The tiger was under close monitoring by the forest department. It traveled to Gujarat, known for its lions but devoid of tigers in their forests. Utilizing the forested landscape of Vindhyachal, this tiger navigated its way to Gujarat. During its 300 km journey, the tiger frequently encountered human habitation but avoided contact and predominantly fed on wild prey. It took two years to complete this remarkable journey.”
Numerous instances of tigers undertaking long-distance travels exist, often unnoticed, especially when they navigate dense vegetation, established tiger-inhabited forests, and avoid human presence and conflicts, eventually reaching another protected area already inhabited by tigers. The forest department takes note when tigers are detected in or near human habitation or in areas previously devoid of tigers, then investigates their origins.
These dispersing tigers are usually young males, often inexperienced and prone to errors when conflicting with humans. However, many ultimately secure their territories in forests with suitable habitats. Research using GIS maps and land-use/land-cover history reveals tigers’ utilization of old migration routes, aiding efforts to create and safeguard wildlife corridors. This enables genetic exchange among separated populations and facilitates repopulation in areas once lost to tigers. The extensive dispersal of tigers exemplifies how nature fosters superior genes and promotes genetic exchange among geographically separated populations.”