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New Delhi: The Queen of Ranthambore is no more. And we are not talking about a blue-blooded dowager.

India’s longest known surviving tigress in the wild, 19-year-old Machli, was found dead at the Ranthambore tiger reserve on Thursday morning.

Machli, whose code name was T-16, was found dead at around 9.55am. She had not been keeping well for more than a week. Over the past several weeks, her movement had become limited and she had almost stopped eating.

Tigers in the wild, on average, don’t live for more than 10-12 years.

Machli was known to be the most photographed tigress and among the biggest draws of the Ranthambore reserve.

Machli (Hindi for fish) was given the name of her mother, who got the moniker for a fish-like pattern she had on her coat. The tigress acquired celebrity status when she killed a crocodile in 2002. She was also the subject of several documentaries.

Though no foul play is suspected, the tiger reserve authorities will conduct a postmortem examination as per standard operating procedures of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

“There are many stories around her including some distorted versions… but the tigress had no role in that. All said and done, none could match her longevity. There is no known parallel of a wild tigress living for so long," said S.P. Yadav, assistant secretary general at the Global Tiger Forum.

“She also produced many offspring. She has an immense contribution to the gene pool of the tiger population in the central Indian landscape. We must salute her," Yadav added.

Though sightings of Machli had decreased in the last few years owing to her age, her legend was always a draw for tourists visiting the park.

“Her sightings had become very few. So her death may or may not have much effect on tourism at Ranthambore. But her presence will definitely be missed. It’s like an elder in the family leaving. She was a huge symbol of tiger conservation," said Dharmendra Khandal, who works as conservation biologist with Tiger Watch, a non-governmental organization that works for tiger conservation in and around the Ranthambore tiger reserve.

There are many legends associated with Machli, including a fight she supposedly had with a six-year-old tiger, who was in his prime, over a prey.

“She backed off after a while as she was old… but her story is still remembered. Another interesting aspect of her is that her daughter stayed with her for a longer duration than usual," said Khandal.

With 2,226 tigers, India is home to around 60% of the wild tiger population. The country has around 49 tiger reserves that span about 2.12% of the country’s geographical area.

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