The Notorious T104
As the human population around Ranthambhore increased, it was only natural that wildlife's interests conflicted with that of humans. These conflicts seldom end in peace and put the lives of both humans and animals in danger.
Over the last decade, the human-animal conflict has seen a sudden increase in Ranthambhore, and these tense times gave birth to several man-eating tigers. Everyone is familiar with the story of T24, who allegedly became a man-eater and got sentenced to a life behind bars in 2015.
The story of T104 unexpectedly steered to a similar path to that of T24. Born to Laila and T74, T104, also famously known as the Blue-Eyed Male or Chiku. Born in the ravines of Berda, amidst the epicenter of the tourist hustle-bustle, T104 was well accustomed to humans and became exceedingly popular as the showstopper of Ranthambhore. Many would rush to Berda and Bakaula to catch a glimpse of the famous Blue Eyed Male. I spent some time with him during the summers of 2018, where I saw him sitting in one of the caves at Berda. The most peculiar thing about my encounter with him was that he shared a common space with another male tiger known as T96, who had come from Balas. And generally, two male tigers who are not related to each other, don't hang out like this, reportedly they also killed a nilgai together that evening. He is the most innocent looking and handsome male tiger I have ever seen, a tinge of blue in his eye made him look adorable.
However, soon after enchanting the tourists, T104 was kicked out of the territory by his father, T74. With no place to call home and high tiger density in the region, the adolescent T104 ventured outside the park's boundary. And this is where he claimed his first victim, a lady inside a mustard field. Everyone was in shock, though a conflict of similar nature was inevitable given the rising number of tigers in the park, everyone knew T104 very well; hence they were not able to digest the fact that he has become a man-eater. The forest department tracked him down and relocated him back inside the park, in the same area his father pushed him out of. There he was bullied by T19 and her sons and was eventually ousted again. He migrated to Kaila Devi Sanctuary in the north. He Left Ranthambhore, into oblivion, searching for a mate and a piece of land to call his own. Just like the famous tiger Sultan once did.
In Kaila Devi, he again killed a man and reportedly consumed parts of the body too. It was evident that T104 had become a man-eater, and let him roam freely would mean more deaths. However, the forest department gave him another chance; they tranquilized him and brought him back to Ranthambhore. But this time, they relocated him to a different corner of the park, Balas. Located in zone 7-8 of the park, Balas is where most young tigers migrate to, but that area is also home to the rogue male tiger, T58, a beast who wouldn't let any new male tiger trespass in his territory. And as luck would have it, T104 was forced to leave again. He traveled the park's length and width, but he wasn't able to find any safe refuge. His instinct took him back to Kaila Devi, and there he again killed his 3rd victim. It was apparent that he had developed a taste for human beings, therefore, it was dangerous to let him roam freely. He was captured and put in an enclosure inside the Ranthambhore park. He was sentenced to live in captivity for life.
For me, it was harrowing to see such a beautiful and docile tiger become a man-eater. The circumstances were such that T104 became a man-eater. Though he was guilty of killing three human beings in a matter of months, T104's story teaches us a lot about the struggles of every young male tiger, who is pushed out of the territory he grew up in and is forced to look for a new home. T104 and his story are very emotional, and it is also the beginning of something bigger and even worse. Shrinking tiger habitats and fading corridors are a real threat to both tigers and humans. With less forest cover and over-saturated forests, these young tigers will eventually come in contact with humans, and they will either get killed via poisoning, electrocution, poaching, etc. or kill humans.
The Blue-Eyed Male's story leaves us with many questions and minimal answers, but the truth of the moment is that the human-animal conflicts in the future are set to increase given the current tiger population status Ranthambhore. And not only Ranthambhore, but conflicts of similar nature will also increase everywhere in India, and other than some theories, we don't have any solution in mind.