On 5 October 1974, a female tiger cub of just 7-8 weeks old was brought to Saroj Raj Choudhury, the founder Field Director of the Similipal Tiger Reserve in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, which lies on the fringe of the Eastern Ghats.
The cub was found near the Khairi river, by the members of the Kharia tribal community, who were collecting honey from the core area of the tiger reserve.
This was the start of a special seven-year relationship between one of the India’s most important wildlife conservationists and his beloved tigress Khairi (named after the river), which caught the attention of the national media and wildlife enthusiasts from around the world.
Saroj Raj Choudhary’s wife Mrs. Nalini used to feed the tigress “Khairi” as her own daughter. She also used to play with her and gives the tigress a motherly love and care.
Khairi became a ‘free-living family member’ at Choudhury’s official bungalow in Jashipur and she was fed with mutton and milk powder, slept on their beds and often played with them.
Choudhury also closely observed her to study the various behavioural aspects of tigers, especially the use of pheromones, their mating behaviour and territoriality, among others.
She was not an alone animal living with Mr. Choudhary and his wife but a crocodile, a hyena, a bear cub and a mongoose were also living with them.
Mr. Choudhary and his wife loved their animals so much but specially “Khairi” was their favourite and they adopted her as a daughter.
Choudhury started his career as a forest officer in the Government of Odisha on 1st April 1949 and rose through the ranks to become its first Wildlife Conservation Officer in 1966.
It was only by the 1960s, when he became a prominent figure in wildlife conservation.
Few people know that he eliminated a number of man-eater tigers in Odisha during the 1960s, thus saving both local lives and other innocent tigers from public threat.
By the time passes, Khairi became older. Mr. Choudhary tried to locate Khairi in the forest but she refused it and always returned to their shelter.
Thus, Mr. Choudhary and his wife decided to live with Khairi forever and they made her their daughter.
Many cameraman and forest guides used to visit Mr. Choudhary’s house so that they can learn about a tiger’s behavior after recording the videos of Khairi living with Mr. Choudhary and Mrs. Nalini.
Khairi was very friendly with people who visited their home.
Khairi was barely seven human years old when she died in 1981.
She had contracted rabies after being bitten by a stray rabid dog that had entered the premises of his bungalow, and had to be put to death through rare euthanasia.
Choudhury was in Delhi for a conference, at the time this incident happened and by the time when he returned, it was too late to provide an anti-rabies vaccine.
Khairi was like his daughter and his entire personal life more or less revolved around her, so her sudden and cruel death had the same devastating impact on him as losing a child for a parent.
A year later and months before his retirement, Choudhury died on 4 May 1982, in his office, after a massive heart attack.
Some people says that he never recovered from Khairi’s loss so he died. He was awarded with the “Padma Shri” in the year 1983.
May be she was an animal but still he was like their daughter. Her father Mr. Choudhary also died after losing Khairi and her mother Mrs.
Nalini died last year at age of 88 years.
The legacy which Mr. Choudhary leave behind us will always remain in our hearts.