The Rajasthan High Court is set to hear a fresh writ petition Friday praying for the relocation of tiger T-24, popularly called ‘Ustad’, to the wild in Ranthambore National Park.
At present, Ustad is lodged at the Sajjangarh park in Udaipur, where he was shifted in May after he allegedly mauled a forest guard to death at Ranthambore.
The High Court had earlier dismissed a similar petition filed soon after Ustad’s translocation to captivity. The fresh petition has been filed by Bhopal-based wildlife activist Ajay Dube.
“The Rajasthan forest department’s decision (to shift Ustad) was not just arbitrary, it was illegal. They immediately branded him a maneater without consulting any experts,” says Dube.
He adds, “Besides, the tiger is a schedule-1 animal under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which means the state government had to seek permission from the Centre, as it is required under section 12 of the Act. They neither informed the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), nor followed the Standard Operating Procedure while shifting the tiger.”
Since he was shifted to Sajjangarh, Ustad has struggled with health issues and was recently operated on for intestinal complications. The Sajjangarh Park administration has since reported improvement in his condition.
While the Rajasthan forest department claimed that T-24 had killed two other people earlier, the NTCA in its July-2015 report had raised questions on this assessment and on the translocation. According to the NTCA investigation, all human deaths cited by the state government had occurred when the persons ventured too close to the tiger inside his territory. There was “considerable time gap between the attacks”, and the rest of the time, Ustad had stayed in his territory feeding from its natural prey base, it noted.
“T-24 may not (qualify to) be described as a maneater. Rather such incidents may be more closely described as consequences of chance encounters due to excessive human proximity to tiger,” the tiger conservation body said in its report. It also questioned the state government’s decision to shift the tiger to a zoo instead of putting him in another location into the wild.
However, the state forest department has stood by its assessment of Ustad being a maneater. “There is no plan to shift T-24 back to Ranthambore,” Chief Wildlife Warden R K Tyagi had told The Indian Express earlier this month.