Senior government vet: NGO knew where tigress Avni (T1) was but hid the data

Updated: 21 November, 2018 09:50 IST | A Correspondent | Mumbai

Government expert's letter goes viral, alleging that an NGO had data on T1 nearly a year ago, but did not share it with state vets who were trying to tranquilise the tigress

T1 was shot dead on November 2 at the end of a 53-day search operation
T1 was shot dead on November 2 at the end of a 53-day search operation

Adding fuel to the controversy over the killing of tigress T1, a letter has surfaced in which a senior government veterinarian has accused an NGO of withholding information on T1's activity that could have helped the Forest Department tranquilise and trap her months ago. The letter, sourced under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, was written by Dr Sunil Bawiskar, the officer in charge of Maharajbag zoo in Nagpur. Dr Bawiskar had been roped in to help with the search for T1 between December 30, 2017, and January 6, 2018.

'Hiding data'
In his letter dated January 8, he alleged, "The NGO people were always hiding data from the authorised immobilization team regarding kill/ pugmarks/ scat/ call/ movement camera trap images, which are crucial for a successful immobilisation operation." He added that the NGO's sole goal seemed to be data collection and research, rather than rescuing the big cat. A copy of the letter has gone viral on social media, and while it does not mentions any specific NGO, activists suspect the letter points to the Wildlife Conservation Trust. The organisation has been helping the forest department in the camera trapping exercise at Pandharkawda.

Shockingly, Dr Bawiskar alleged that due to Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF) K M M Abharna's blind faith in the NGO, there was less support for vets who wanted to tranquilise the tigress. "The DCF has blind faith in the NGO people, despite the operation [being] prolonged for about two months. The staff is angry and [their] morale is down due to the aimless search for the tigress (despite the data available with the NGO) since last 58 days, having minimum 10 feeding cycles." He further wrote, "The NGO and Honorary Wildlife Warden [Ramzan Hirani] are suppressing the administration through media news and political support." The vet suggested that the authorities should "avoid misuse of the forest staff by NGOs with their own hidden agenda".

The other side
A spokesperson from WCT said, "WCT exclusively did not conduct any camera trapping exercise in the said area after June 2015. WCT has only assisted the forest department staff in terms of handholding to establish monitoring protocol. All the camera traps deployed in the area post 2015 were a property of Forest Department and were deployed and accessed by FD staff. WCT never had exclusive custody of any data, our job was only to analyse the data coming from the field, and to assist management in mitigation of human-tiger conflict.

"In the last two years, WCT did not produce any scientific literature/report using data from Ralegaon area, neither do we plan to do so in the future. the WCT veterinarian present at the time was just part of one of the several capture teams, and had no assigned responsibility or mandate over which team will work where. Area managers took decisions about operational areas of each team upon consultation with all the teams. WCT, being a responsible organisation, did not talk to any journalist when this operation was going on, as according to NTCA SOP, the DCF of Pandharkawada was the official spokesperson for the operation. The officer to whom the letter was addressed did not communicate anything in writing to WCT, or DCF Pandharkawada, who was also chairman of the SOP committee." Neither the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests A K Misra, nor DCF Abharna and Honorary Wildlife Warden Hirani responded to mid-day's requests for comment.

Dr Sarita Subramanian from the NGO, Earth Brigade Foundation, who is also one of the petitioners in the T1 case, said, "This letter by clearly shows the lack of transparency and half-hearted efforts to tranquilise T1. It also clearly shows the nexus between the Forest Derpartment and the Wildlife Conservation Trust, which supplied camera trap images of T1 very conveniently on the site and date of her killing. This NGO has also had one or two of its members on the NTCA committee, always recommending the capture or elimination of T1.How can the same NGO's president, Anish Andheria, be appointed by the CM as part of the inquiry team?"

T1's cub kills horse
Meanwhile, one of T1's cubs killed a horse on Monday, sources from the forest department confirmed to mid-day.

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First Published: 21 November, 2018 07:47 IST

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