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Hawk's Heart - Inside the Mind Of A Royal Bengal Tiger

Updated on December 5, 2016

Lead Veterinary Scientists Log - Dr. Rachel hawk - 12-05-2022

Since assuming the lead on The Lifespan Project, I've witnessed an alarming amount of evidence pointing toward the reduction in longevity for the Royal Bengal Tiger. Most things point toward environment being the primary cause for this decline, but since being on the ground and witnessing what's really happening here in India, I see that another threat more greater than the orignal project goal: poachers!

I can't help but take this personally. I've spent most of my professional lifetime working to protect wildlife and hopefully discover ways to extend their lives through science. If greedy bandits are going to heartlessly slaughter them for their fur and body parts, the The Lifespan Project is essentially pointless, as well as my own research.

Sketch Of Sanya - Wounded In The Wilderness - From Memory

Performing Surgery On A Wounded Bengal Tiger

Two months ago, my team and I rescued a Royal Bengal that had been shot by local poachers. She'd lost a lot of blood when we were finally able to rescue her in a secluded section of The Odisha Tiger Reserve.

A wounded tiger can be a very dangerous creature to deal with, even when you're trying to help them. Their first instinct is to attack anything that comes near them, so we immediately tranquilized her from afar and waited about ten minutes before moving in to stabilize and mount her to a stretcher for removal.

Now affectionately named Sanya, the eight year old, 95 kilogram Bengal had a bullet wound in her left hip region. Luckily, the would itself wasn't fatal, though her loss of blood was bound to due her in very soon.

Sketch of Sanya - Lying In The Brush - From Memory

Thankfully, This Was One Of Our Tagged Bengals - Or She Probably Would Have Died

Luckily, we'd tranquilized Sanya a couple months prior and embedded a monitoring device underneath her skin in the upper, right shoulder blade region. The device is capable of reading her heart rate and respiratory vitals. The thing that tipped us off that something was wrong was her immediate heart rate increase and lack of movement.

Now that she was immobilized, I was able to remove the small caliber bullet the poachers used to shoot her with. They want to damage as little of the tiger's fur and body as possible. Their profit comes form selling the fur, head and innards, so a small caliber bullet works best for their needs. Usually they wait till the victim loses blood and lays down, much like Sanya had done when we found her.

The only reason they don't use tranquilizers is the tiger still has plenty of spirit left in them to run a great distance after being injected. I would assume they don't want to have to venture too far into wilderness in search of their prey. Also, the Bengal might seek out the rest of their den and make the hunt more dangerous for them.

Sketch of Sanya - Shot With A Tranquilizer Dart - From Memory

More Surgery Will Be Necessary On My Favorite - Sanya

Loading Sanya into the Range Rover proved to be very challenging as we were reluctant to move her at all. It's a very rocky trip back to The Lifespan Project's medical facility and risking tearing open her sutures. Also, she could possibly awaken from the sedatives suddenly and attack us all. This was perhaps the most unnerving part of the day's adventure. We all sat nervously in the Rover during the hour's long trip home.

I was confident that I could finish up the surgery in the safety of the medical facility operating room successfully. I wanted to run several tests while we had Sanya there, as well as replace the monitoring device with a more advanced one a colleague of mine had recommended.

An Old Sketch Of Mine - But Works With This Journal Entry

The Trip Back To The Medical Facility Proved Very Nerve Racking

I was correct about the surgery being routine. If there really can be anything routine about operating on a huge Royal Bengal Tiger. Sanya is one of the healthier tigers we've been tracking lately, which is probably why the poachers targeted her. The black market for a bengal fur and taxidermic head can fetch a hefty price. It doesn't take much for the locals in rural India to step over the line and try their hand at something that's very illegal.

While inside her hip region doing the operation, I decided to take some bone density tests as well as extract some marrow from the femur. I want to keep samples on hand for her in case there are more drastic surgeries down the road. She's really starting to grow on me a lot, this beautiful female tiger.

Routine Surgery On A Beautiful Animal

Post surgery, now three days later, sees Sanya finally up and moving around on her own. She walks with a definite limp, but is getting better every chance I have to look in on her. We're keeping her isolated in the secondary cage away from the others. Any ruckus or fight might tear open her sutures and it's never a good idea to expose fresh blood into the air around other bengals.

I'll miss her in a few days once she's released back into the sanctuary. She's still a wild tiger and can't spend too much time in captivity. her mental state, as well as physical agility requires she be back amongst her own, in the natural habitat we've created for her here.

Sanya On The Mend - Looking Keen As Ever

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