Avni shot dead

T1, the elusive “maneater” of Pandharkawda, known to locals and wildlife lovers as Avni, lost over a year’s battle of survival on Friday night. The tigress’s end came mired in controversy over violation of protocols.

The five-year-old big cat was shot dead around 11 pm by Hyderabad-based sharpshooter Shafath Ali Khan’s son Asghar, allegedly without making any effort to tranquillise the animal.

Also, Asghar did not have the permission to shoot Avni. The orders issued by A K Misra, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), were in the name of his father and wildlife veterinarian M Navin Kumar.

Neither Shafath Ali Khan nor Navin Kumar was present at the spot. In fact, there was no veterinarian or any senior forest officer with the hunting team. Kumar, reportedly, was never seen during the entire two month-long hunt.

T1 was blamed for killing 13 villagers, though there are four tigers in the “problem area”. There is no scientific evidence that T1 killed all 13.

On Friday, when news came of T1’s presence in compartment number 149 in Borati nullah, Asghar, along with four forest department field staffers, reached the spot and shot the tigress dead. Yavatmal CCF PG Rahurkar claimed, “Asghar fired a dart first. Then he shot T1 in self-defence as it charged on the team seated in an open Gypsy.”

Rahurkar, however, could not justify how a “tranquillising attempt” was made in the night, which is against the National Tiger Conservation Authority protocol which states that darting should be done only after sunrise and before sunset. The team should have followed the big cat and waited for sunrise before attempting any action, according to the protocol.

The CCF confirmed that there was no wildlife vet or any senior forest officer with the team, but avoided comment on how the “schedule drug” to sedate T1 was handled, that too without a registered and authorised vet, under the Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1984. Sources who were part of the team filing T1’s spot panchnama said it looked as if the dart was manually pierced into the tigress’s body “ostensibly to show that it was tranquillised before being shot”. They said, “There was not a single scratch mark on the body. The bullet had pierced the heart and lungs, killing the tigress on the spot.”

PCCF Misra claimed, “T1 was sighted by many passersby as Friday was a bazaar day. A team led by Asghar was stationed there and it sighted the animal several times. When team member Sheikh Mukhbir shot the dart, the animal charged at the team. Hence, she was shot by Asghar from 8-10 metres in self-defence.”

The department has ordered a probe into the episode after the controversy, Rahurkar said. “Statements of team members are being recorded,” he added.

The sources said the two 10-month-old cubs of T1are said to be in Borati area. As of now, there is no concrete plan to capture them. “The forest department violated its own order upheld by the high court and the Supreme Court, which stated that tranquillising efforts would be made first. However, during the last two months of operation, not a single attempt was made to dart the tigress,” Karnataka veterinary expert Prayag H S said, adding, “Only forensic and ballistic tests can reveal the truth.”

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