Tiger is an endangered species worldwide with around 2500 tigers alive in India. Despite, conservation being the motto and campaigns like Save The Tiger being a mainstream narrative, Tigress Avni was brazenly killed in the Yavatmal Forest in Maharashtra. While some call it a necessary measure, many believe that it’s a murder of an endangered species, which is in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act. Some experts even called for detailed NIA investigation as they believe that Avni was wrongfully labeled as a man-eater.
The alleged man-eating tigress in Maharashtra, Tigress Avni was killed on November 2 in the forests of Maharashtra. It was believed that Avni had killed 13 humans and there were visible bite marks on the body. This lead to forest officials declaring Avni as the man-eating tigress. The authorities aimed to relocate the tigress with killing her as a last line of defense. However, on the fateful night of November 2nd, Avni was shot down by the private hunter Shafat Ali and his son. Activists across the forum were against the use of trigger-happy hunter, who was known for killing big cats.
The killing of tigress Avni has raised several questions about the policy of tiger conservation in India. On one side, where we pledge to save the endangered tiger population in India on another side, more and more tigers are killed because of human-tiger interaction. Recently in Uttar Pradesh, a tiger was killed after it attacked a local villager. The villagers reacted by mowing down the tiger by a tractor. These rising conflicts raise the issue of increasing human-tiger interaction.
The autopsy of the alleged man-eating tigress Avni revealed that the tigress hadn’t fed or hunted in the last 4 days prior to death. Prior to her death, many activists raise question over Avni being declared as a man-eating tigress.
The guidelines for declaring a big cat as a man-eater is quite technical and complicated. First, the declaration must come from the State’s Chief Conservator which must be backed by evidence and proofs of the tiger killing the human population to hunt. For a tiger to be declared man-eater, it has to enter the local habitat and hunt the local population for food. However, if we consider the case of Avni, most of the human-tiger conflicts arose because of human entering in the tiger zone, for grazing their cattle. Activists and experts also state that in cases of human-tiger conflict, upon killing the human, a tiger may eat the human flesh, particularly in the area where prey is scarce. However, these events don’t call for the tiger to be declared as a man-eater. For a tiger to be declared a threat to human, it must continuously stalk and hunt humans for food.
However, none of these criteria was matched in case of Avni. Activists believe that the declaration of Avni as man-eater was to shift the focus from the issue of rising human-animal conflicts around wildlife sanctuaries.
The Wildlife Protection Act states that no wild animal shall be ordered to kill unless the Chief Wildlife Warden is convinced that the wild animal can’t be tranquilised, captured and relocated. The hunter Asgar Ali in his statement stated that he first aimed to tranquilise Avni, however, the darts work slowly and Avni roared and attacked the jeep of the forest officials. In order to survive and ensure the safety of other officials accompanying, the tigress had to be shot down. The series of event highlight the fact that no proper guidelines were strictly followed in order to capture and relocate the tigress.
After the fateful hunting of Tigress Avni, a nationwide debate has sparked over the involvement of private hunters and whether or not the Avni was a man-eater. The Maharashtra Forest Minister has defended the actions of Forest Officials, claiming that the hunting was only used as a last resort after the tigress attacked the Jeep. In reference to his statement, Minister For Women and Children Welfare, Maneka Gandhi has urged Maharashtra’ Chief Minister to sack the Forest Minister, citing his lack of sensitivity towards endangered animals. Many more activists have come forward supporting the move of Maneka Gandhi, urging the Chief Minister to order a probe into the killing of the tigress.
Many activists also wrote to Prime Minister Of India, Narendra Modi asking for an NIA probe. However, amidst the recent uproar, the hunter Asgar Ali has stayed adamant to his statement, claiming that it was a necessary step. He was also seen stating that hunting is in Nawab’s DNA and he won’t succumb to the pressure created by the unaware, self-declared activists. He is also preparing to file defamation cases against activists who have been accusing him of being a murderer.
Tigress Avni had two cubs who are yet to be caught for relocation. The sorry state of affairs again highlights the incumbency of forest officials to tackle the increasing Human-animal conflicts all across the country. This is not the first case and neither would this be last, however, the precedent set by Maharashtra Forest officials seems to be a dangerous one. Instead of focusing on limiting the human-animal conflicts around the buffer zone, the officials are rather focusing on controlling the natural instincts of wild animals. Many more cases are arising about humans reacting to wild animals killing domestic animals and locals villagers. Recently in U.P, a tiger was killed by angry villagers after the tiger allegedly attacked and killed a local villager. Cases like such have been prominent for long now and they act as a major hurdle in promoting and preserving wildlife in India.
Activists believe that the success of any such initiative heavily rely on the cooperation of the local villagers and the growing human-animal interaction has created a sense of angst amongst the locals residing near such sanctuaries.
Apart from that, activists say that Maharashtra’s Forest Officials have brazenly displayed their attitude of not sticking to guidelines and laws. Officials seem to be more than happy to hunt rather relocate. Avni was left behind with her two cubs who are to be relocated to other tiger reserves in India. However, the officials don’t seem to be focusing upon it, now that Avni has been shot dead.
Even before Avni was shot dead many activists met with Maharastra’ Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, requesting him to prohibit private hunters from accompanying the forest officials’ team. However, no actions were taken by the Maharastra’ State Government. In the past two days, many more activists have come forward requesting an NIA probe in the killing of Avni. We have to wait and watch whether the authorities justify the killing of Tigress Avni or will there be an investigation. Local residents in Mumbai have been holding silent marches against the move of forest officials of hiring private hunters, however, after her death, the protestors are asking for a probe into the killing of the alleged man-eating tigress.