The Karnataka forest department has intensified the search for a ‘healthy’ tiger that has reportedly killed two people and at least 14 cattle over the last two months in the areas falling under the Gopalaswamy Betta Range of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
In its latest hunt, the tiger killed a farmer on Tuesday in the Hundipura area of Gundulpet taluk in Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar district. Following this, villagers sat on overnight protests demanding that the authorities either capture or kill the elusive tiger which had also attacked several farmers’ cattle during wee hours. “The tiger has been on hunt posing threat to our lives as well as our cattle for over 6 months as of now,” said some villagers.
Soon a press release signed by the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Project Tiger) from Aranya Bhavan, Mysuru was issued to media persons that called for capturing or killing the tiger within 24-48 hours.
This led to protests by conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts who demanded the order be revoked and that the wild cat should be tranquilised instead to be caught alive.
Joseph Hoover, a conservationist and former member of the Karnataka Wildlife Board, told Indianexpress.com that efforts should be encouraged to ensure the tiger is not killed but caught and moved to a safer zone. “The incidents that have taken place simply cannot confirm the tiger to be a manhunter as it can be accidental or rather the cat trying to establish a territory for himself,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the Karnataka forest department took a u-turn on the matter, saying it has issued no orders to shoot the tiger.
“Holding the position of the chief wildlife warden, the only designated official to issue shoot orders, I have not ordered shooting in this instance. However, the tiger after being caught alive, will not be left back to the forest as we believe it has killed two people. Instead, the tiger will be sent for rehabilitation to Bannerghatta Biological Park or Mysore Zoo, said Sanjay Mohan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) in Bengaluru.
In the meantime, efforts have been intensified to spot the tiger with nearly 144 camera traps set up for the purpose in the area by Wednesday evening, T Balachandra, Field Director of Bandipur Tiger Reserve said. “An additional 100 camera traps reached us and we are in constant efforts to identify the right tiger. Once confirmed, our teams will ensure that the tiger is tranquilised. A total of six trained elephants are now part of the search in the areas,” he said.
Over 80 forest department officials have been deployed in the area in five different teams, working on shifts round the clock, officials confirmed.
In a positive development on Thursday, officials found pugmarks (footprints) of the tiger with camera traps recording a couple of images of the wild cat. “DNA samples have been collected and sent for testing to ascertain the tiger’s identity. In addition to this, the stripe-profile of the tiger will also help in confirming its identity,” Balachandra added.
The tiger’s photo was captured by the camera traps at around 9.30 pm on Thursday and on 11.49 am Friday, as per the officials who are on duty in the designated areas. “Drones are also being used to spot the tiger,” officials said.
Sources added that the tiger has been identified to be around 4.5 years old. However, search teams are yet to confirm whether there are other tigers as well in the same vicinity.
Meanwhile, Shafat Ali Khan, the Maharashtra-based hunter infamous for killing tigress Avni last year, reportedly volunteered to shoot down the tiger. Forest department officials confirmed that his offer was turned down as they are looking at tranquilising the wild cat.
Reacting to the same, D Rajkumar, a representative of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, said shooting the animal would send a wrong message to people. “As there are over 123 villages close to the high-pressure area identified in Bandipur, once a tiger is shot down, the demand for the same would be up with the people of the neighbouring villages even in other cases of cattle-lifting,” he said.
As an initial measure, the search team has now planned to locate the tiger using camera traps. Once it is located, the areas will be closed in using elephant packs, and the tiger will be cornered after which it will be tranquilised, officials said.
Tiger numbers in the 872 square kilometre-forest in Bandipur have been on the rise over the years, although encroachments have resulted in a decrease of the forest area for the wild cats, Hoover added. “The operation tends to be challenging for the forest officials as the villagers are irked due to the recent kills and have developed an anti-wildlife sentiment due to the same. Generating awareness and garnering their support is equally important for the success of the operation,” he said.
Update: As the third day of the search progresses on Friday, top forest officials, including Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden Sanjay Mohan are on field to discuss strategies and oversee procedures followed to capture the elusive tiger.
Update: Sanjay Mohan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, discusses strategy to capture the elusive tiger in Bandipur (Karnataka) with forest staff and wildlife experts. Day 3 of the search is on. @IndianExpress https://t.co/tXH8mx43LP pic.twitter.com/7VZQacLWVw
— Ralph Alex Arakal (@ralpharakal) October 11, 2019Subscriber Only Stories