Two little ones, all alone, lost in a great forest. With no one to protect them. It reminds one of the German fairy tale, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, recorded by the Brothers Grimm. In this case, the orphans are of the four-legged variety. And not exactly as vulnerable as their human counterparts. I am speaking of the two cubs of tigress Avni, who was shot dead for killing human beings in the forest of Yavatmal, Maharashtra, central India. The episode triggered a huge outcry, with animal lovers blaming the state’s forest department of being hasty and insensitive. What made the whole thing even more tragic was the news of the dead tigress having cubs, between 10 to 11 months of age. This is a phase in their lives when they are overwhelmingly dependent on their mother for food.

The pair is made of one male cub and one female cub. After the death of their mother, the focus of the media shifted to the little ones. Camera traps were used to track them, and they were found near the village of Vihirgaon. A whole lot of ideas have been doing the rounds when it comes to rescuing them. A tracking team has tried using taped tiger calls to lure them. The plan is to capture and raise them inside a large enclosure where they would be safe from other tigers and large predators. The cubs might have acquired a taste for human flesh on account of their mother but some conservationists feel that they can be rehabilitated and made to switch over to their natural prey.

They have already made a positive move, hunting down a pony kept as bait in the Pandharkwada Forest Division. But one cannot assume that things will return to normal with rapidity. Fairy tale endings are not par for course in the natural world. Young tigers face a whole range of challenges. Unrelated adults have been known to kill cubs. Then there are other predators like leopards. Even if they manage to go undetected, they will have to keep hunting to feed themselves. But at such a tender age, it is hard to imagine that they will have developed the necessary skills and strength to capture prey. One can only hope that they manage to hang on and survive.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a tiger cub in Central India. The photograph was uploaded by David V Raju. Though life may look like a bowl of cherries under the protective gaze of Asia’s greatest predator, orphaned, abandoned and lost tiger cubs face great perils as they try reaching adulthood.