Crocodile-wrestling celebrity tiger dies in India

India is in mourning today after the death of a much-loved Bengal tiger called Machali in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan. Famed for her serene bearing and beautiful markings, Machali was one of the most photographed tigers in the world, and has even appeared on a stamp.

But her beauty was every bit matched by her battling powers, and she never cowered from a conflict when it came to protecting her patch or her cubs. In one famous fight, she was caught on film tackling a full-sized 14ft Indian crocodile.

About half the 61 tigers in Ranthambore are believed to be directly descended from Machali—who has been called the ‘Tiger Queen’ and the ‘Lady of the Lakes’. According to conservation group Travel Operators for Tigers, her celebrity status has generated around US$10million in tourism for the national park.

Bengal tigers, an endangered species, typically live between 10 and 15 years, but Machali has been watched and monitored since 1997. At around 20 years of age, that means she was the oldest known member of her species in the wild, until she passed away of natural causes this week.

The local press had been reporting on Machali’s declining health in recent days, ever since she was found semi-conscious and starving on the fringes of the popular park. ‘We were trying to provide her treatment but she died,’ Yogesh Kumar Sahu, Ranthambore tiger project director, told Agence France-Presse. ‘It was a natural death, linked to her age.’

Machali cools her paws in a puddle in Ranthambore National Park
Machali cools in a puddle in Ranthambore National Park

However, while Machali’s passing may have been nature taking its course, another iconic Indian tiger, Jai, is suspected to have fallen victim to poachers after disappearing in mid April from the Umred Karhandla wildlife sanctuary near Nagpur in central India. The Hindustan Times recently reported that two suspected poachers were detained from near where the seven-year-old was last spotted.

Bengal tigers are one of the success stories of international conservation. Since the 1990s, their plummeting population has stabilised and recovered somewhat, with an estimated 2,500 now thought to living across south Asia and China. However, poaching has recently reared its ugly head again, and a census in April revealed that 28 of them had been killed in the first part of 2016, which is already more than the entire number poached in 2015.

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