Mumbai: Murderous hunters won't tranquilise tigers anymore

Updated: Nov 14, 2019, 07:23 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav | Mumbai

New National Tiger Conservation Authority guidelines will end practice of shikaris being invited to tranquilise or kill animals in conflict cases

T 1 was shot dead in cold blood
T 1 was shot dead in cold blood

The era of bloodthirsty shikaris (hunters) invited by forest departments of various states to shoot wild animals in conflict with humans is set to end, as the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has introduced new guidelines for this. As per the rules, a confirmed problem animal should be eliminated only by a government department sharp-shooter and not trigger-happy outsiders as in the case of tigress T1 who was killed last year.

However, wildlife conservationists, experts and veterinarians say that as per section 11(1)(a) of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW) has the authority to declare any wild animal as a threat to human life and hence fit to be killed - but can invite a private hunter. They say only the new NTCA guidelines should now be followed.

T1's controversial killing

Last year, tigress T1 also named Avni, was allegedly shot dead in cold blood at Yavatmal in Maharashtra by Asgar Ali Khan - son of controversial shooter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan. The Maharashtra Forest Department which had invited the shooter to kill the animal, faced countrywide criticism for involving a private hunter in the operation.

Animal lovers and conservationists were of the opinion that the practice of involving a private shooter should be stopped and only government officials should be involved in such operations. Former Union Minister and senior BJP leader Maneka Gandhi had also criticised the Maharashtra Forest Department for involving the hunter.

The NTCA had sent a letter to the Chief Wildlife Warden of all Tiger Range states on November 11 with the subject, 'Revision of Guidelines/SOPs issued by NTCA'. The copy of NTCA's letter that is in the possession of mid-day states, "After 'declaring' the animal as dangerous to Human Life, its elimination should be done by Departmental personnel having the desired proficiency, while providing the firearm with the appropriate bore size. In case, such expertise is not available within the Department, an expert may be co-opted from the other competent Government Departments".

TigerT 1 also named Avni, was allegedly shot dead in cold blood at Yavatmal in Maharashtra by Asgar Ali Khan, a shooter invited by the Maharashtra Forest Department. File pic

Earlier guidelines stated, "After 'declaring' the man-eater, its elimination should be done by Departmental personnel having the desired proficiency while providing the 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."

Creating new safaris

The new guidelines also mention rules to establish tiger safaris which shall be factored in the Tiger Conservation Plan of the tiger reserve concerned. These safaris are supposed to house captured problem or injured animals. Wildlife conservationists and activists say that the idea of creating tiger safaris near tiger reserves is hopelessly misplaced.

Experts speak

Talking to mid-day, wildlife conservationist and founder, Sanctuary Nature Foundation, Bittu Sahgal said, "The idea of creating tiger safaris near tiger reserves is hopelessly misplaced. It's a thinly-disguised way to create dozens of new zoos and will fence off wildernesses at a time when we are looking to open up corridors in landscapes. When Project Tiger was launched, Kailash Sankhala, the first director, had explicitly stated that problem animals should NOT be put on display because by word of mouth this spreads disinformation of tigers per se being dangerous man-eaters. Eventually, more money will probably be spent on some of these facilities than is spent on protecting tigers in situ in parts of India."

Conservation photographer Sarosh Lodhi from the group Conservation, Lens and Wildlife (CLaW) said, "The PCCF office should not resort to Wildlife Protection Act, Section 11(1)(a) 11 that gives him the power to involve a private person to deal with the situation but follow the NTCA SOP."
SGNP veterinary officer Dr Shailesh Pethe said, "The role of veterinarians and the risks and difficulties of immobilisation of tigers in the wild has been well represented in the revised guidelines."

Wildlife veterinarian and forensic expert Dr Prayag H S said, "If the revised guidelines are followed in letter and spirit we are sure more wildlife can be saved. Instead of time wasted in proving an animal a man eater, which is never possible in field conditions, the government department shooter is empowered to take a call, so that will put an end to self-invited shooters/ hunters who come in the disguise of capturing tigers and end up killing them."

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