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Search for Jai continues near Telengana-Maharashtra border

The chase for one of Asia’s largest tigers has been extended to neighbouring Telangana with the state’s forest department launching a search and setting up camera traps to ascertain if a tiger spotted on the border with Maharashtra was indeed Jai, who went “missing” from the Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra.

“The operation is on. Our people have gone there and a 60-member (team) is working on it,” Jogu Ramanna, minister for environment and forests, Telangana, told DNA. He added they were also setting up camera traps to gather photographic evidence of the tiger and ascertain if it indeed is Jai. This is being done in Adilabad district, which shares a border with Yavatmal, Chandrapur and Nanded in Maharashtra.

The last location of the seven-foot-long and 250 kg Jai — named after superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s character from the blockbuster Sholay — was at Paoni range near his habitat in the Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary (UKWLS) on April 18 when his radio collar last emitted signals and is suspected to have malfunctioned. This led to a massive outcry and search operation by the forest department, wildlife enthusiasts and NGOs, with fears that the tiger, the largest in India, may have been poached.

“Our staff saw (the tiger) twice at night… near a river on the Maharashtra-Telangana border. But they had no chance to photograph him. If this was done, we could have identified him as Jai based on these photographs,” said Ramanna.

“We are supporting the efforts by the Maharashtra government (to locate Jai),” he added, stating that their counterparts from Maharashtra had also launched a search operation on the state’s border.

“We have set up camera traps in tiger bearing areas. But this area does not have a strong tiger presence and hence does not have the required equipment. If the region had these camera traps, we could have been able to identify if the tiger was indeed Jai,” said Ramanna, adding that they were now setting up the camera traps in the area.

A senior official from the Telangana forest department said that while they were monitoring the presence and movement of the tiger, there was “no evidence to support if it is Jai”.

“There is no evidence or direct spotting for the past 15 days. This is revenue land with cotton and red gram crop so it is difficult for us to find evidence,” he said, adding that they had installed 10 camera traps.

“On the night of December 14, two range officers saw the tiger twice in a 15-minute gap in a two to three kilometre distance… They were however unable to identify if the tiger was radio collared,” the officer said. He added that there was a chance that the animal could be on the move and surface at another location either in Maharashtra or Karnataka.