Meera Bhardwaj

A year has passed since Tigress Avni (T1) was killed in cold blood as the easiest possible solution to tackle the rising human-tiger conflicts in India.

No court order or petitions to the government could save the life of this tigress from bullets. She was protecting her young cubs in her habitat but the terrain was fraught with human interference day in and day out.

Till date, there is no clarity on why she was killed and not tranquillized and captured. And why were “hunters-sharp shooters” called when the country has so much of expertise to tackle the conflict situation?

On November 2, Avni (T1), the famous tigress from Pandharkawda forests, Yavatmal district, Maharashtra, was killed in cold blood by trigger happy hunters from Hyderabad. Despite advice from vets and forensic experts, it seems no opportunity was given to the mother tiger with two cubs (10 months old) to be tranquillized and captured.

Avni with one of her cubs

Despite the Supreme Court’s order to capture Avni and rehabilitate her in a proper centre, the forest department hired wildlife hunters to catch and kill her. The undue political pressure from the Maharashtra government and the ineffectiveness of the wildlife authorities finally led to its killing by Shafath Ali Khan’s son Asghar who did not even have any permission to gun down the tigress.

Amid protests by people and petitions by activists against its killing, the five year old tigress was hunted by officials and vets for almost a year. But these efforts ended in a bizarre way as Avni was killed when there was neither any senior forest official nor the concerned wildlife veterinarian with the hunting team.

Dr H S Prayag, Veterinary and Forensic Expert whose advise was disregarded in Avni operations says, “It’s been one year and the guilty are still roaming scot-free in spite of the committee’s reports saying they are guilty. What surprised and shocked me like many was seeing them again in the tiger capture operation at Bandipur. The recent successful capture of killer tiger at Bandipur in a short span vindicated our stand then and even now that only state forest department is capable of handling any human-wildlife interactions without depending on outside self-invited hunters who possess dart guns and Schedule H anesthesia drugs.”

A wildlife expert and former state wildlife board member added, “Till date nobody has questioned how Asghar who had no permission to shoot,  killed the animal. He claimed that he darted the tigress but when it leaped on him, he fired in self-defense. However, there is nobody to corroborate his so-called claims. Further, disregarding all NTCA’s norms how did the forest officials allow darting operations during night time which is strictly not allowed? ”

Avni and her cubs

Now who dispersed the drugs for tranquillizing the tigress to a hunter who has no knowledge of veterinary medicine is another big question mark? Dr Prayag further appealed to concerned authorities to seize illegal weapons and drugs from hunters so that such people dare not self-invite themselves and kill wildlife in disguise of capturing problem tigers. He adds, “That’s the least we can do for T1 and her orphaned cubs. For me, T1 was not just a tiger but a mother with sub adult cubs to rear and protect them. She was not a man-eater until proven otherwise.”

From start to finish, the department has violated every existing rule book as they were interested only in killing the animal rather than capturing it, adds Ramesh, wildlife activist. “Let there be no more killings of tigers and leopards in cold blood and I hope the Centre soon comes out with strict punishment for anybody disregarding rules and norms.”

The Avni Saga

Avni was alleged to have killed a dozen villagers in Yavatmal district but till date, it has not been proved. In fact, no forest official could prove that Avni was a habitual man eater. Further, officials made no effort to isolate her two cubs (whom she was feeding) before giving the kill orders. One female cub was captured later and she is expected to be released this month.  The second one – a male cub is alive and forest officials claim that he is doing well.

The investigations and violations found by the NTCA and the State Committee who investigated the Avni T1 case had said Asgar has violated below laws by shooting Avni, which are :-
1) Indian arms act 1958.
2) Indian Veterinary Council Act (IV-VA) 1884.
3) Wild Life Protection Act 1972.
4) Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985.

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