A roar-ing debate
Tiger, tiger burning bright; in the forests of the night; do we have the right to snuff out your life?
For days now, a controversy is simmering about a Tigress called T1, accused of killing 13 villagers around Pandarkawada, about 150 kilometres from Nagpur. The tigress has two 10-month-old cubs. The killings happened between June 1, 2016 and August 28, 2018. The forest department has declared the tigress a man-eater in order to kill it. There are certain legal stipulations, but one part of the Act says, "No wild animal shall be ordered to be killed unless the Chief Wildlife Warden is convinced that such animal cannot be captured, tranquilised or translocated." This amendment watered down to a great extent the blanket powers of the Wildlife Warden.
Did T1 actually eat the victims or simply kill them and tear them to shreds? This column is based on newspaper reports, and there appears to be no mention of whether the tigress actually ate its victims. If that was not done, how on earth can it be declared a man-eater? Human beings are not part of the normal food chain of tigers. In due course, a tiger would make at least one kill every week. Between June 2016 and August 2018 i.e. approximately 112 weeks, it would have made at least 112 kills. In the present case, the number will be higher because she is also feeding two 10-month-old cubs.
If she had indeed turned into a man-eater, a major proportion of these kills would have been humans, primarily because they are easy prey. But, the number of people killed is only 13. It did not kill any villager between January 2018 and July 2018. What were the reasons? Generally, a tigress with two cubs will drag the kill to the cubs to be eaten. Did it do that?
It is also important to note that most villagers killed were grazers in the forest. Did the tigress kill in self-defence or because it felt threatened? I have been a bureaucrat for 36 years, I can say from experience that it is usual for the bureaucracy to find the easiest option, particularly where a defenceless animal is involved. They should have come out clean in the public domain about the evidence in their possession, the efforts made and that all other possible options had been explored and there was no choice but to eliminate T1.
The tigress should be tranquilised and collared and its movements monitored. Villagers in the area should be sensitised, and prevented from entering the forest. If the cubs can also be captured, then along with the mother they should be moved to a forest away from human habitation. A landmark decision of the Uttarakhand High Court is the ideal solution: "No wild animals, including tigers, leopards, and panthers, shall be declared man-eater, rogue and killed in entire state of Uttarakhand. Dead body of wild animals shall not be displayed in print media, electronic media, including television.
Henceforth, the wild animal who poses a threat to human life should be captured alive by using a tranquilizer gun in the presence of a veterinary doctor. Captured wild animal shall be thereafter released in nearby forest/ jungle or alternatively, can be kept in zoo temporarily and thereafter, be released in its own habitat." The learned high court judges have echoed my view. But, a highly important point that needs to be answered in the T1 case is — what happens to the two cubs? Are you shooting one tiger or three?
The writer is a Padmashree winner for wildlife photography and former member of the Wildlife Board, Govt. of Maharashtra.
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