Avni (T1) tigress shot dead in Yavatmal: Was it murder or self defence?

Updated: Nov 04, 2018, 19:54 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav | Mumbai

While forest officials claim that T1 was shot by Nawab Shafat Ali Khan's son when she was attacking their vehicle, activists say this is nothing but a fake encounter staged

T1 was shot by Asghar, Nawab Shafat Ali Khan's son
T1 was shot by Asghar, Nawab Shafat Ali Khan's son

While some of the villagers in Ralegaon and Pandharkawada tehsil of Yavatmal district, near Nagpur, may now heave a sigh of relief that tigress T1, allegedly responsible for killing 13 people, has been shot dead, the legality of the entire operation is being questioned by wildlife lovers.

T1 was shot by Asghar, Nawab Shafat Ali Khan's son; the nawab had been roped in by the forest department to capture T1 a few weeks ago. Wildlife activists think this is nothing but cold-blooded murder. Sources confirmed to mid-day that all the vets involved in the operation had gone back to their rest house after 6.30 pm. So, who shot the tranquilising dart? Now, the operation becomes more challenging as officials will have to capture T1's two cubs alive.

While there are questions being raised on how the nawab's son was allowed to shoot the tigress, considering that the permission orders are in the name of his father, AK Misra, principal chief conservator of forests, said, "Asghar's name is mentioned in the permission letter."

Avni, also known as T1,  was cremated after its post-mortem was done
Avni, also known as T1,  was cremated after its post-mortem was done

How the tiger was shot
The press release issued to the media states, "In a late-night operation, the man-eater Tigress T-1 Ralegaon taluka, in Yavatmal, was shot dead by the forest patrolling team, near compartment number 149 on Borati-Warud Ralegaon road."

The release states that the shooting team comprised three forest staff members, Asghar and the vehicle driver. "Last night, from 6.45 pm onwards, the tigress was sighted by many villagers. The staff started alerting the passersby about the presence of the tiger. When certain about the identity, a team member attempted a dart that hit it, but the tigress moved back and charged at the team, which was in a open gypsy. As an act of self defence, Mr Asghar fired from a distance of about 8-10 m. The tigress died on the spot."

At 11.30 pm, Misra and other officials reached the spot. After preliminary formalities, the tigress was shifted to Gorewada in Nagpur for post-mortem. On why there was no vet in the vehicle, Misra said, "Because it was a patrolling vehicle and not the one to capture the tigress. [Asghar] shot the animal in self-defence of the entire team."

Ankush Muneshwar, sarpanch, Wedshi village
Ankush Muneshwar, sarpanch, Wedshi village

Criticism online and offline
Dr Rajesh Gopal, secretary general, Global Tiger Forum, tweeted, "A cold blooded murder to say the least... what a disgrace... totally unprofessional way of managing big cats." Yuva Sena chief Aditya Thackeray tweeted, "Let's rename the Ministry of Forests as Ministry of Poaching. It's anyway a sham! #Avni." (T1 was also referred to as Avni.)

Wildlife photographer and member of ClaW, Sarosh Lodhi, said, "T1 issue has been a major conservation failure on all counts. The entire episode reeks of lapses and failures in managing conflict scenario, forest fragmentation, corridor destruction, illegal grazing and what not. It is a failure as even had the tigress been captured live, she would have been confined to a enclosure. Her death only shows how incompetent the state forest department is. I have closely followed the case of tigress Kismat [the man-eater from Brahmapuri was ordered by the courts to be shot at sight; she died later of an accidental electrocution] — and now T1 and can clearly see that the department has not learnt anything."

Mumbai-based activist Dr Sarita Subramaniam, the person behind 'Save Tigress Avni' campaign, said, "Tigress T-1 Avni has been killed in a fake encounter. This is nothing but state-sponsored legalised hunting at night. Sudhir Mungantiwar, who is a repeat offender as far as getting tigers shot dead, should resign as forest minister, and AK Misra [principal chief conservator of forests], who is just a puppet and a disgrace to the esteemed position as the state's warden, must be suspended. We also demand a special investigation to be set up to find out all the discrepancies and lacunae in the hasty labelling of the tigress as a man-eater and her kill a tragedy."

What expert vets have to say
Talking to mid-day, expert veterinarian Dr Prayag H S, a senior PhD research scholar, KVAFSU-Bengaluru, who was also part of an earlier operation to capture T1, said, "The operation is a violation of SC court and National Tiger Conservation Authority's standard operating procedures. Asghar could have fired in the air even if it had attacked after darting. After darting, the tiger normally runs away and will never attack. In my experience, not even one big cat came towards us. They used xylazine and ketamine, which are schedule H drugs. In the absence of a vet, it is a violation of the Indian Veterinary Council Act as well as Drugs and Cosmetics Act. These are psychotropic substances to be used by a registered, qualified, experienced wildlife vet."

The postmortem was done and its body was cremated. The experts are waiting for the ballistic report to know the distance from which the shot was fired.

What the villagers have to say
The sarpanch of Wedshi village, Ankush Muneshwar, said, "People think we are happy because the tigress has been killed, but it's not the truth. If the forest department had taken adequate steps to capture the tigress when the initial human kills happened, the tigress could have been captured alive and human lives would have also been saved. We are still thankful to them for taking all the best measures, and we feel that the two cubs that are roaming on the landscape should also be captured by tranquilising to prevent man-animal conflict."

Another villager told mid-day that now at least they can rest peacefully and go to their farms. "We have been facing losses as we were unable to go to our farm. But, still the problem has not been solved completely and we want the cubs to be captured at the earliest."

Also Read: Tigress Hunt: Avni (T1) Illegally Shot By Controversial Shooter Nawab's Son In Yavatmal

Read the full coverage of T1 tigress here

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