T-1, aka Avni, mother of two nine-month old cubs was shot dead in controversial situations in the Yavatmal district. The six-year old tigress was killed by Asghar Ali, the son of a controversial hunter Shafat Ali, aggravating sharp responses from animal rights activists even as villagers celebrated the death of a big cat that they and the forest department believe was responsible for at least 13 human deaths over 18 months.
The big cat’s death, from a single bullet fired by Asghar — it isn’t clear whether he was authorised to shoot the animal — highlights the human animal conflict that is playing out, with tragic results for both humans and animals, in several parts of the nation.
In this case, there weren’t too many opinions about whether or not the tigress was responsible for the human killings but there were a lot about whether humans had any business being where they were. Animal rights activists saw them as encroachers, and argued that she couldn’t be called a man-eater because she hadn’t penetrated human habitations to kill people. The forest department, the local government, even the Supreme Court saw it otherwise.
The Supreme Court, in an order, refused to stay the order issued to kill her but said an attempt must first be made to tranquillise the tiger. According to the forest department, Asghar shot the big cat in “self-defence” after she purportedly attacked him at about 11.45 pm in Borati-Warud area after a failed attempt to tranquillise her.
Asghar is son of Shafath Ali, the sharp-shooter, who was previously engaged in the operation to tranquillise the tigress.
Shafath, animal rights activists allege, is a big-cat hunter and his participation became controversial. There were reports that the state government decided to terminate his services after the intervention of Union minister Maneka Gandhi. Irrespective of his standing, Shafath continued to direct the hunt for the tigress, involving scores of camera traps and live bait (usually goats). Reports say that, Avni was lured with bait and a mixture or urine ( that of another tigress’) and a perfume (Obsession) by Calvin Klein because it contains a pheromone big cats find attractive).
Wildlife activists refused to believe the details of how Avni was killed. Dr Jerryl Banait, who approached the apex court against the September 4 shoot-at-sight order of the state forest department, alleged the tigress was shot dead without any effort to tranquillise her.
“There was no wildlife veterinary doctor accompanying Asghar, which is mandatory as per norms,” he said. Kundan Hate, a wildlife activist and former functionary of WWF said that the forest department violated its own order, which stated that tranquillising efforts should be carried out first before elimination.
Advocate Tushar Mandlekar who fought against the shoot-at-sight order of the state forest department on September 4 at the Supreme Court demanded a probe under special investigation team (SIT). Mandlekar claimed that orders to shoot the tigress issued by PCCF (wildlife) AK Mishra was in the name of Shafath Ali.