On August 4, 2018 a visibly eaten body of a resident of Wedshi village in Yavatmal district was found on a top of a hill. The victim was believed to have been killed by tigress T1 popularly called Avni. A team comprising forest officials, professional hunters, elephants and even drones were used to hunt down the man-eater tigress, accused of killing 13 persons since July 2016. Avni was eventually gunned down on 3 November 2018
Yavatmal district lies on the eastern fringes of Maharashtra, a good 700 km from Mumbai and Wedshi village lies on the boundary of the Pandharkawada (a fragmented forest) along with Ralegaon, Kelapur and Sarati. For the last two years, the residents of these villages have been haunted by a now five-year-old tigress named T1 who moved from the nearby Tipeshwar Wildlife sanctuary, around 70 km from what's now being called a conflict zone, as a two-year-old.
The manhunt for the tigress would have begun in January 2018, had the forest department had enough evidence to prove that it was indeed T1 that had led to the loss of human lives. The then the Principal Chief Conservator Of Forest, also the chief wildlife warden of the state, AK Mishra had issued orders after T1 claimed a resident of Loni village on January 27,2018. However, at the time an activist Dr Jerryl Banait approached the Bombay High Court pleading against the action as the officials had no evidence to pursue their case
After the first killing, the next victim was a grazer from their village. It took the loss of three lives before the Supreme Court intervened by rejecting a mercy petition and staying the HC order by not interfering in the process in which the forest department either tranquilises the 'man-eater' tigress and if the process fails they shoot the animal dead
From June 1, 2016, to August 28, 2018, 13 people had fallen prey to tigers in Yavatmal's man-animal conflicts. Probe and results from camera trap images led the forest department to conclude that tigress T1 was responsible though no there were no concrete evidence to prove that all thirteen killings were done by Avni (T1), the mother to two ten-month-old cubs who were with her during the recent killings.
T1's menacing presence terrified the villagers of Yavatmal and they stayed away from their farms in fear, which in turn hurt their livelihoods
In September 2018, controversial shooter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan from Hyderabad was roped in to trap T1. In an exclusive interview with mid-day, the controversial hunter called Yavatmal's man-eating tigress a terrorist and murderer. In a rather contradictory statement, he said killing tigers makes him cry, but he is also perfectly comfortable posing with the body of a tiger after he has shot it
Nawab Shafat Ali Khan said, "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."
Upset over not sighting the man-eating tigress, T1, controversial shooter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan trained his gun on the forest department instead. DCF Abharna, a woman forest officer, had to suffer after she was made to apologise to Khan at Hotel Rahul in Pandharkawda, where he was staying.
Later during the same time in September 2018, the move to tranquilise tigress T-1 by the forest department failed. Sources said a veterinary team from Madhya Pradesh, part of the 60-member search party for the man-eating tigress, was close to darting her, but before they could do so, controversial shooter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan allegedly reached the spot and his presence disturbed the big cat, and she vanished into the bushes
Turns out, this was not the first time the Nawab Shafat Ali Khan butted in and ruined an operation. A member from the Madhya Pradesh team talked about one instance when they were on the ground to track the tigress and were successful in getting very close to her and her cubs, but Nawab Shafat Ali Khan came in and disturbed her.
Following the failure of the operation, a high-level meeting also took place at the forest division office in Yavatmal, in the presence of senior FD officials and the Nawab. Taking serious note of the series of reports in mid-day, which had highlighted the fact of PCCF A K Misra sending a senior woman forest department officer to Nawab Shafat Ali Khan's hotel at night to apologise over a perceived slight, the shooter was told to go back home
On October 6, 2018, an elephant brought in from Tadoba National Park for 'Operation Tigress T1', escaped and trampled a woman near her house. This led to the withdrawal of all elephants from the operation. Even the four veterinary teams, which had joined the operation were sent back. In the desperation to catch the tigress, the forest department had to bring back controversial shooter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan to complete the job
Nawab Shafat Ali Khan was back in Pandharkawda on October 7, 2018 and was unofficially involved in the operation. He was on standby and was on strict instructions that the tigress and her cubs were to be trapped alive. The Maharashtra Forest Department (FD) faced flak for bringing controversial trigger-happy shooter, Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, back to the operation to capture tigress T1 and her cubs
On October 17, 2018 after the tigress was untraceable for around three-four days, the Forest Department (FD) got an image of tigress T1 on camera traps, along with her fresh pugmarks
A K Misra, principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) - Wildlife and Chief Wildlife Warden, and Sunil Limaye additional principal chief conservator of Forest (APCCF) - Wildlife East, who was leading the operation said T1 had to be removed from the area quickly or else the locals could retaliate by killing another tiger to take revenge
On November 3, 2018, T1 was shot dead. The press release issued to the media stated, "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."
T1 was shot by Asghar, trigger-happy Nawab Shafat Ali Khan's son. Wildlife activists thought that the hunt was a cold-blooded murder.
After T1 was killed, A K Misra, principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) 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."
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 Avni's body was cremated
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."
Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar received a lot of flak for T1's shooting. Sudhir Mugantiwar dismissed the uproar over T1's killing as arising out of 'inadequate information' and said Maharashtra had made maximum efforts towards protecting forests and tiger conservation. He said the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines were followed
Union minister Maneka Gandhi was furious with Maharashtra Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar - for handling the issue of tigress T1. Maneka Gandhi had virtually demanded the sack for Sudhir Mungantiwar in a series of tweets. Maneka Gandhi also stated that she had been in talks with Sudhir Mugantiwar for the past two months and had repeatedly requested him to ensure that the tigress was tranquilised and quarantined. Maneka Gandhi said, "For some inexplicable reasons, Mugantiwar has been repeatedly calling Shafat Ali Khan to kill animals in Maharashtra. As ministers, we need to exhibit the highest standard of sensitivity to the constituencies that we serve."
Even as the Maharashtra Forest Department's action of eliminating tigress T1 in Pandharkawda was being criticised, Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar has hit back at Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, saying her allegations lacked information. Sudhir Mungantiwar said hunter, Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, who was assigned the job had officially killed a tiger in Maneka's Pilibhit Lok Sabha constituency. He said the hunter's son, Asgar, too was officially assigned by the Maharashtra Forest Department
The shooting incident of the tigress invited a lot of flak on social media and wildlife lovers across. Mumbai-based NGO RAWW wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is the chairperson of the National Board for Wildlife, requesting a CBI probe in the violation of laws while executing the elimination of tigress T-1. The case is on...
Tigress T1 popularly known as Avni, a five-year-old tigress, was declared a 'man eater' and held responsible for killing 13 people. The tigress was shot dead near Borati village in Yavatmal district on November 3 after three months of manhunt. Here's how the entire story unfolded
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