Should one let people die to save a ‘man-eating’ tigress or kill it to save them is the question many Indians are asking after a wild feline called ‘Avni’ (‘earth’), above (Image: Twitter/Milind Deora), was shot dead in central India’s Maharashtra state last week.
As thousands of villagers living near Yavatmal’s forests celebrated the death of the tigress with firecrackers and animal activists expressed outrage, federal minister Maneka Gandhi demanded the sacking of Maharashtra’s Minister for Environment and Forests Sudhir Mungantiwar for “ordering” the killing.
Gandhi, an animal lover, called six-year-old Avni’s killing a “ghastly murder” and wanted state Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to remove Mungantiwar.
Gandhi, Fadnavis and Mungantiwar belong to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Gandhi questioned the forest minister’s decision to involve Asghar Ali Khan, a tracker and son of a private marksman Shafat Ali Khan, in the patrol team. According to her, the “trigger-happy shooter” Asghar was not authorised to kill the animal.
Hiring his father Shafat, who had killed several tigers, leopards, elephants and wild boars in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district, was equally questionable, she said.
Since Shafat was attending a meeting elsewhere on Friday evening, Asghar was roped in by forest officials.
Gandhi was also extremely concerned about the fate of Avni’s two cubs. She feared they may die in her absence.
Calling Gandhi’s words too harsh, Fadnavis said an investigation will be ordered if any procedural lapses have been committed. Investigators will examine whether the dart was fired or inserted after the shot.
Preliminary reports suggested the tigress attacked the forest department team after the dart was fired and she was shot in self-defence, he said.
Mungantiwar said no forest official wanted to kill the tigress. Hundreds of them were trying to capture her alive for the past three months.
But there was unrest among local farmers and shepherds after she had reportedly killed three people in Yavatmal in August this year, he said.
In September, the Supreme Court ruled Avni could be shot on sight as a last resort but efforts should be made first to tranquilise her.
All possible means were tried to capture the animal. It was shot to save the lives of forest staff trying to tranquilise her. The decision was taken by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife).
The two cubs of Avni are nearly 11 months old and capable of survival in the wild. Still, the forest department will take care of them, he said.
Instead of lodging a complaint with the chief minister, Gandhi can order a high-level inquiry into the incident, he added.
Amid the war of words between the Gandhi and Mungantiwar, BJP’s ally Shiv Sena rubbed salt into the forest minister’s wound.
An editorial in party mouthpiece Saamna said that if a man inserts his hand inside a snake’s burrow, it will bite him. Similarly, if humans intrude the space of tigers, the animals will pounce on them.
Animal activists questioned the narrative of forest officials on Friday night’s incident.
Talking to The Indian Express, Prayag Hodigere Siddalingappa, a vet from Karnataka state, pointed to forest officials’ failure to 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.
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 in the patrol team.
A forest official, requesting anonymity, said although no vet was in the patrol team on Friday night, the dart was prepared by a vet.
The team lured Avni using as bait a live goat, the urine of another tigress, and a Calvin Klein perfume.
Sharpshooter Asghar said the tigress was darted by an expert but the animal charged at their open jeep and he was forced to pull the trigger.