A week after tigress Avni T1's murder, rogue hunter yet to submit rifle

Nov 10, 2018, 07:50 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

With Asghar Ali Khan refusing to turn in his weapon, analysts unable to complete ballistic, forensic tests; Sudhir Mungantiwar, MoEF order probe

A week after tigress Avni T1's murder, rogue hunter yet to submit rifle
T1 was shot dead in Yavatmal last Friday. File pic

A week has passed since tigress T1 was killed, but the weapon used to shoot her is yet to be deposited with the Directorate of Forensic Science and Laboratories for the mandatory ballistic tests. The delay has raised several questions in the minds of wildlife lovers and activists. On Friday, both Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and the MoEF announced an inquiry into T1's killing, to find out whether guidelines were followed.

Mungantiwar has ordered the enquiry through a committee to find whether guidelines/ procedures given in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) were followed in the killing. Members of the committee include S H Patil, PCCF-Chairman; Bilal Habib, representative of the Wildlife Institute of India; Anish Andheria, president, Wildlife Conservation Trust and Nitin Kakodkar, APPCF.

Controversial hunter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, whose son Asghar, shot the tigress, did not comment directly on why the weapon was not deposited. File pic
Controversial hunter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, whose son Asghar, shot the tigress, did not comment directly on why the weapon was not deposited. File pic

MoEF forms committee too
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change under which the NTCA functions, has also instituted a committee to inquire into the death of T1. It constitutes OP Kaler, Addl Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (retd); Jose Louies, Deputy Director and Chief Wildlife Control Division and Communication, Wildlife Trust of India and Hemant Kamdi, AIG (NTCA) Nagpur.

While the MoEF committee will have to submit its report by November 26, the state-appointed committee will have to submit its report by November 22.

'Gun may be switched'
Tigress T1, or Avni, was killed last Friday at around 11.30 pm-12 am by Asghar, son of controversial hunter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, in presence of a forest department team in Pandharkawda. While there was no veterinarian present when the incident happened, the team has been claiming that attempts were made to tranquilise the tigress, but as she charged toward them, she had to be shot in self-defence. Wildlife lovers and activists have raised questions about why the gun has not been submitted yet.

Wildlife lover and activist Dr Sarita Subramanian from NGO Earth Brigade Foundation said, "The Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) shouldn't have allowed Asghar to leave Pandharkawda without ensuring that he deposited the rifle used in the killing of T1, as it is a valuable piece of evidence. We have always been suspicious of the PCCF for letting the Nawab get away with sabotage, despite complaints from his junior officers. Won't be surprised if the Nawab and Asghar switch the gun used to kill the tigress."

Sources from the forest department told mid-day that the gun with which the tigress was shot has yet not been submitted to the Ballistic Division of the Directorate of Forensic Science and Laboratories for ballistic examination.

'Asked to deposit gun'
A senior forest department official said, "The gun with which the tigress was shot belongs to the shooter and we have told him to deposit the weapon with the Ballistic Division for forensic and ballistic examination."

Every firearm has a unique print similar to that of human fingerprints, which it leaves on the bullets and cartridges. In forensic tests, these marks are compared with a bullet to find whether it was fired from the same weapon. The ballistic division examines standard and country-made firearms, lethal weapons like revolvers, pistols, assault rifles, carbines and ammunition.

'Self- defence not offence'
When contacted, Nawab Shafat Ali Khan refused to directly comment on why the weapon has not been submitted, but said, "Whatever procedures have to be followed, we will cooperate with. As far as killing a confirmed man-eater in self-defence is concerned, any person walking on the road can kill a man-eater with his licenced weapon, stick, or even an axe in self-defence and still not be on the wrong side of the law. As Sec 11 (2) of Wildlife Protection Act 1972 clarifies, 'Killing of any animal in defence of oneself or any other person is not an offence'.

NTCA on bore size of gun
The SOP of NTCA to deal with an emergency arising due to straying of tigers in human dominated landscapes says that the Chief Wildlife Warden of the State should record in writing the reasons for declaring the tiger as a 'man-eater'. It also mentions the bore size of the firearm to be used to kill the animal. It says, after 'declaring' the man-eater, it should be eliminated by departmental personnel having the desired proficiency, while providing a firearm with the appropriate bore size (not below .375 magnum). In case such expertise is not available within the department, an expert may be co-opted from other state governments or outside with due authorisation.

Tracking the cubs
There is still no clue on the whereabouts of the two cubs of T1. The operation to track them is on in full swing and veterinarian Dr Ajay Deshmukh from Wildlife SOS NGO, who has rescued many leopards, and reunited more than 50 leopard cubs with their mothers in Junnar, has also been called to help the department.

Chief Wildlife Warden and PCCF A K Misra said, "We are regularly putting bait, even meat pieces. A camera trapping exercise is also on with a combing and searching operation to trap the cubs safely. Our tracking team along with veterinarians is taking the best possible efforts."

On Thursday the pugmarks of the member of a big cat family were seen near Chikhli-Vihirgaon village at around 7 am. There was also news that a tiger, T 2, suspected to be the cubs' father, was spotted in a camera trap at one of the locations.

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