Tiger, cub break free from Assam zoo enclosure
Naresh Mitra, TNN, 30 January 2010, 08:33pm IST
GUWAHATI: A tigress and her cub slinked out of an enclosure at Assam State Zoo on Saturday morning, triggering fear among 10,000-plus visitors present. Dibya, the eight-year-old female, had had a taste of human blood two years ago when she mauled a visitor to death along with another tiger.
For an hour and a half on Saturday morning, Dibya prowled around the zoo, covering nearly 400 metres, even as visitors screamed and ran helter skelter. Zoo authorities first deployed five elephants to shield visitors from being attacked by the big cat and then evacuated them. The thrilling drama finally ended around 11 am when the Bengal tigers were tranquilized and put back into the cage.
Ironically, Dibya and her year-and-a-half-old cub had been kept in a separate enclosure as the nine tigers were considered to be too many in the 175 hectare zoo. Dibya, who had been brought from Mysore Zoo in an exchange programme in 2005, was to be sent to another zoo in exchange for some animals that are more tame. Dibya and her cub though had other ideas.
At 9.30 am on Saturday, the duo walked out of the enclosure when zoo keeper Prabin Mikir forgot to secure the slide door between two portions of the cage. The cub accidentally pushed the slide door aside and stepped into the main cage and then stepped out through the open door with Dibya closely trailing her. Had the incident happened minutes earlier, cleaners Appa Rao and Rangil Ali, who were disinfecting the cage, would have been mauled by the twin cats.
On leaving the cage, the two walked in different directions. Visitors out for a day of fun at the zoo got the shock of their lives when they saw the big cats walking around carefree. “I could not believe my eyes when I saw the tiger walking about in the open. Though it was a cold morning, I began sweating. It was as though death was walking towards me,” recalled visitor Kalyan Das after a close encounter. Dibya stopped 50 metres short of Das and turned the other way nonchalantly.
While Dibya was spreading terror, a crowd followed the antics of her cub. The adventurous cat pranced around for half hour and then took shelter in a shallow drain away from the prying eyes. Another 15 minutes on, zoo officials managed to shoot a tranquilizer dart and put the cub to sleep. Dibya, meanwhile, jumped over a short moat and into the giraffe enclosure with the tranquilizer team in hot pursuit. Though the latter did manage to fire a dart, it did not have any effect on the big cat that then jumped out and wandered along the main pathway.
Bitupon Hazarika, who had come to the zoo with his friends from Jorhat, later recalled the chilling moments. “It may seem to be thrilling in hindsight, but right then, with the tiger on the prowl, it was blood-curdling. Though zoo officials were guarding us, I felt very unsafe,” he said.
The tranquilizer team continued to follow Dibya and fired the next dart when she was walking along the broad pathway. But it too failed to put the cat to sleep. Apparently unconcerned by the pricks, she took rest in a shelter and then jumped into the giraffe fence again. It was then that the third dart was fired and had the desired effect. Dibya sat down and went into a drowsy state around 11 am.
Divisional forest officer Narayan Mahanta, who is in charge of the zoo, admitted it was sheer luck that no one got injured. “We were worried that if Dibyu had attacked, it would have caused mayhem. Luckily she didn’t. The entire incident happened due to lack of coordination between the zoo keeper and cleaners. It was eminently avoidable. We will look into the sequence of events and identify the lapses,” he said.
SS Rao, nodal officer for wildlife crime control at the state forest department, has been entrusted with the probe into the incident. In December 2007, a 50-year-old man had been mauled by Dibya when he had scaled a barricade to take photographs of the cats and fell into the enclosure.