Jai, one of India's most iconic tigers, remains missing after more than 100 days even as International Tiger Day is being marked on 29 July. Wildlife authorities and animal rights activists have stepped up their efforts to find the missing big cat.
Jai, thought to be the biggest tiger in Asia weighing 250kgs, was last spotted on 18 April in the western Indian state of Maharashtra's Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary, where the seven-year-old animal usually roams.
Though Jai, fitted with a radio collar, was claimed to have been sighted by locals, officials have dismissed the claims saying they are not credible. Neither the activists nor the authorities believe the wild cat could have been a victim of poaching.
The forest ministry has deployed five teams to locate the majestic cat. As many as 150 people, mostly wildlife enthusiasts, from 10 NGOs are also taking part in the search operations. A reward of 50,000 Indian rupees (£565) has also been announced by the government to anyone who gives information on Jai's location.
"Jai is too important a tiger for the forest department; they have also made some efforts now to trace him. But those have been half-hearted attempts. We have announced [a] reward for those who give news of Jai's sighting, but deep within, I feel Jai is dead," Sarosh Lodhi, an active member of the Conservation Lenses and Wildlife public group, told the Times of India.
In the past three months, there have been no reports of killing of cattle in the 500-600 sq km area, frequented by Jai. The tiger is known for hunting cattle even though the big cat does not always eat its prey.
Jai's mysterious disappearance has come at a time when Maharashtra, which has one of the richest tiger corridors, is scaling up efforts to promote tiger tourism. Experts have speculated Jai could be expanding his footprint in the forest or even in search of a suitable tigress to mate.
Maharashtra's Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said: "The survival of Jai is not a question as he can feed on cattle. There is evidence suggesting his food habits which make him a good wanderer. As a three-year-old, Jai walked all the way from Nagzira covering almost 100kms in search of a female tiger. Well, he did succeed," reported the Indian Express. Jai rose to fame after that adventure, and he is known to freely wander through villages and highways alike at times.