Exclusive! Hunter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan: Humans and big cats can't co-exist
EXCLUSIVE >> Controversial shooter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan from Hyderabad, roped in to trap rogue tigress, suggests walls around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries; says nothing wrong in posing with trophies of animals he kills
If Nawab Shafat Ali Khan had his way, he'd build a wall to keep all the tigers and elephants out, and he'd make them pay for it, too, at least figuratively. In an exclusive interview with mid-day, the controversial hunter called Yavatmal's man-eating tigress a terrorist and murderer. He claimed that killing tigers makes him cry, but also said he is perfectly comfortable posing with the body after he has shot it.
The forest department kicked up quite a storm with its decision to rope in the Hyderabadi hunter in the mission to rescue man-eating tigress T1 in Yavatmal. However, speaking to this reporter at Pandharkawda, Khan said, "I have no desire to shoot the tiger, or even capture it; they have called me because they are incompetent."
The hunter with a leopard he shot in Himachal Pradesh in 2013
Activists are likely to take further objection to his claims that humans and big cats cannot co-exist, and that the day will soon come when the authorities will have to cull the growing Bengal tiger population. This, despite the years of conservation efforts put in to increase the endangered species' numbers.
What do you have to say about the criticism over the government's decision to involve you in the operation?
I was culling wild boars in Telangana when the Chief Conservator of Forest in Yavatmal called me and said he needed my help. I am a resource for six state governments, including Maharashtra. As I am from the royal family, and a national shooting champion, these departments take my expertise during various operations related to man-animal conflict. It is the government that has invited me, I don't know why people criticise me. The orders that were given to me after inviting clearly state that T1 will be tranquilised and taken to the rescue centre. If efforts to tranquilise are unsuccessful, it will be eliminated to avoid any further loss of human life. I have no desire to shoot the tiger, or even capture it; they have called me because they are incompetent.
My grandfathers have killed 20-20 tigers like dogs. I don't intend to kill tigers and it's not a hobby for me. Last year, I tranquilised a problem tigress in Brahmapuri, near Nagpur, despite orders to shoot. But no one is talking about this.
Shafat Ali Khan posing with a tiger he shot in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh in 2009
There have been serious allegations against you, including some serious cases under the Arms Act.
With the blessings of god, today there is not a single case against me, and no court has convicted me. People are deliberately raking up the past, but I ignore them. My resort in the Nilgiris has been temporarily shut by the Supreme Court, as it falls in the elephant corridor.
Are you a veterinarian? Are you qualified to shoot tigress T1 or tranquilise her?
I am not a vet and one does not have to be a vet to tranquilise. Darting a tiger is not an easy job and it requires a lot of courage to get within 10m of a tiger to dart it. I have been tracking tigers for a long time, and it is there in my blood.
Veterinarians in India only have experience in treating captive animals in the zoo. They don't even have the training to identify pugmarks. That is where the shikari comes in. The Maharashtra FD does not have even the gun needed to shoot tigers. I have the traditional hunting weapon.
There is only one man-eater and that is T1 and her cubs. She is a terrorist; there is no difference between a terrorist killing people and a tigress killing humans. In January, I studied her for four days and submitted a report to the government in which I have clearly stated that this tigress cannot be tranquilised. I will follow the orders that are given to me.
Wildlife lovers feel you are trigger-happy and they have condemned you for posing with your kills.
When a terrorist dies, his/her picture is published on the front-page. I personally feel that the man-eaters should also be paraded on the bonnet of a vehicle, as it helps to reduce the anger of villagers who have lost their loved ones. I'm risking my life in the operation, so there is no harm in clicking pictures with the animals that I shoot. I don't feel good about shooting tigers; I have even cried sometimes after killing a tiger. Shooting a tiger is a tool of conservation, and I'm a conservationist.
The bottom line is, this place is not for tigers. In the next three years, there will be increasing man-animal conflict, and the authorities will have to shoot 50-50 tigers in one go, the tiger population is multiplying rapidly and the forest cover is shrinking.
What do you think is the solution?
There is hardly any prey base in this area and so if the tigers remain here, there will be man-animal conflict and loss of human life. The only solution is to catch and relocate them somewhere else. All the talks about maintaining wildlife corridors and gene pool dispersal are big-big terms. All over, national parks should have a boundary wall, and we should keep our all tigers and elephants inside it. Neither humans should enter the forest, nor should the animals come out of the forest. Big cats and human beings cannot coexist with each other.
How do you identify a problem animal? Is it based on the tiger's stripes or leopard's rosette pattern?
I identify a man-eater based on its body language, for which one has to be in the field, to get all this experience. Man-eaters avoid eye contact. I have studied the psychology of tigers since the last 40 years.
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