Ustad was born in late 2005 to T22, a tigress in the Lahpur area of the Ranthambore reserve — the reserve has several villages and sanctuaries inside it — and was fathered most likely by T20. He spent his early days in Lahpur with his two brothers T23 and T25, before moving on to Sawai Man Singh Sanctuary and later to Zone 1, covering Sultanpur, Sherpur and Raipur check posts on the periphery of the reserve. At a mighty 250 kg, Ustad thundered about in his territory with little competition from other males, except minor face-offs with T28 and T25 who lived in the vicinity. He also lived a reasonably contented life with his partner T39, popularly known as Noor. The two produced three male cubs — the eldest, 4-year-old Sultan or T72, and two 14-month-olds.
The only thing which could overpower T24 was his weak digestive system. He had chronic constipation “because of which he couldn’t get up or walk for days”, says Balendu Singh, former honorary wildlife warden. But once he was up and running, he returned to his fierce ways. “Once, his paw got infected after being pricked by a thorn, so he had to be tranquilized and treated. But as the vets were bandaging the wound, he emerged out of anesthesia with such force that the doctors and attendants left all their kits behind and ran for their lives. Ustad quietly got up and went into the woods with a swagger,” Singh laughs.
As per news reports Ustad is a man eater and has killed humans in the past.
Wildlife experts and enthusiasts, however, do not buy the ‘murderous’ tag that has come to be attached to T24.
Former environment and forest minister Bina Kak, who has extensively photographed Ranthambore’s tigers and was the first to give tigers like Ustad names instead of numbers, says, “It was T25 ‘Zaalim’ who was the aggressive one. If your eyes met his, he would growl. But Ustad was never like that. Hundreds of devotees crossed his way daily but he never chased after them.”
Support for Ustad has been pouring in on social media, and animal lovers have even organized candlelight marches. Oblivious to the storm he has raised though, Ustad continues to stare blankly at the CCTV cameras in his new enclosure, perhaps craving only a long walk.
T 24 Ustad – The Unifying Force
There were days when I walked in my territory carefree
My life was beautiful as we were the happy family of one plus three
Often living at the edge, we basked in the glory of life;
While my babies made most of their play, my meals had love from my lovely wife;
Indeed! It was a beautiful life!!
& suddenly every piece of our lives was destroyed,
While I was taken to a zoo, my family was put to endless agony & cries.
Now who will hear us out?
We are left to endless silence of jungles & not equipped as human clout.
I want to be heard coz it is my family whose future is at stake,
It is not only us the animals, but even humans can make mistakes.
I am now succumbed to a life of bondage and misery,
All I can see from the cage are the memories.
Memories from the days when I lived like a king
The very sight of me gave you the thrill.
I don’t ask for more, just my freedom!!
Once again, I want to go back & rule my kingdom!!!