Known popularly as the Queen of Ranthambore and considered the world’s oldest-surviving tiger in the wild, Machli was unwell for the past four days and was lying semi-conscious in the park. She is considered India’s most iconic big cat.
Machli was the face of the country’s tiger conservation programme, died inside the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan of old age on Thursday morning. She ate four kg meat four days back and had barely moved since, Ranthambore field director Yogesh Kumar Sahu informed.
“Machli, the oldest tigress in the wild in India was more than 19 years old, which is like 110-120 years for a human,” he said. The average life-span of a tiger is 12-13 years.
Machli, also known as T-16, was born in 1997 and named after a fish-shaped mark on her face. Over the years, she became one of the most photographed animals in the world, bringing thousands of visitors and crores of revenue every year to the park.
“Sad to know that Ranthambore’s iconic tigress Machhali’s passing away. Machhali gave visitors stories to remember. Her bloodline reigns supreme in valleys,” chief minister Vasundhara Raje tweeted after hearing the news.
She also inspired a flurry of wild-life films and documentaries. One of the most notable documentaries is Tiger Queen. A postage stamp was also issued in her honour in 2013. She was known as the ‘Lady of the Lake’ as she was mostly seen along the water inside the park.
Sahu recalled Machli was pushed out by other tigresses from her favourite lake area towards the fringes of the park. But surprisingly two months ago, Machli visited the lake area, which she had left around a decade before.
Sources in the forest department said her health was deteriorating in recent months. Vets were constantly monitoring her condition, and efforts were made to make her comfortable.
Her most famous fight in the wild was with a massive crocodile that she defeated but lost most of her canine teeth in the bout. Since then, she hunted occasionally and was mostly provided live bait so that she didn’t starve.
She birthed nine cubs over the past 16 years. But despite being the park’s star attraction, Machli disappeared from the park’s core area a few years ago as younger tigers pushed her out. She re-appeared a few months back.
Most tourists would consider their visit to the park futile if they didn’t catch a glimpse of the iconic animal.