Activists plan legal battle after ‘man-eating’ tigress shot dead in India

People of Pandharkawda and Ralegaon regions of Yavatmal district in the west-central Indian state of Maharashtra are celebrating the death of a ‘man-eating’ tigress that, along with her two cubs, was blamed for the deaths of 13 shepherds or farmers over the past two years, local reports say.

The tigress ‘Avni’ (earth), officially known as T1, was shot dead around 11pm on Friday when it attacked the forest staff after being darted with a tranquilliser gun.

Tracker Asgar Ali Khan killed the tigress with a single bullet in self-defence. The operation took place near a road in Borati village leading to Ralegaon.

The carcass was sent to Nagpur’s Gorewada Zoo, a four-hour ride by road from Yavatmal, for a postmortem examination to ensure neutrality and transparency.

While locals of the forested areas in Pandharkawda-Ralegaon regions are heaving a sigh of relief over the death of the tigress, animal activists are planning to sue forest officials.

Prayag Hodigere Siddalingappa, a vet from Karnataka, told The Indian Express that the shooting was illegal, it was murder.

Siddalingappa asked why the forest officials did not involve a vet in their operation. He wanted to know why the forest staff chose the operation at night when it is difficult to monitor tiger movements.

He also disputed the team’s claim that Avni pounced on them after being darted. According to him, in such situations, a tigress does not charge at someone, instead it runs away.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) A K Mishra said forester Sheikh darted Avni correctly and Asgar pulled the trigger only when the animal turned towards them.

Those involved in Friday’s operation were monitoring the movements of Avni using night vision equipment. They all had previously seen her many a time, Mishra said.

Asgar joined the operation as his father Shafath Ali Khan, a sharp shooter, was out of station, he said, adding that Asgar was given orders to shoot.

Animal activist Jerry Banait, who had moved courts seeking the capture of Avni alive, too questioned the timing of the operation and the failure of the team to involve a vet.

A forest official, requesting anonymity, said although no vet was in the team, the dart was prepared by a vet.

The pressure on forest officials to eliminate the tigress mounted after three villagers were killed in attacks in August.

A shoot-at-sight order for the tigress was issued early in September but animal activists disputed the decision for a week until the Supreme Court gave it clearance.

About 200 forest and police personnel, trained sniffer dogs, drones, trackers, sharp-shooters and even an elephant were involved in the nearly three-month hunt for Avni.