After shooting tigress T1 on Saturday night, the Maharashtra Forest Department is now faced with what it reckons a greater challenge – capturing the cubs. The cubs, a male and a female, haven’t been sighted in the past 48 hours.
“We have a window of about 7-8 days as the cubs can possibly survive on their own by making small kills like pig or neelgai (blue bull) fawns, etc. But we are counting on our luck to try and capture them sooner than later. We can’t afford to let anything untoward happen to the cubs,” Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Sunil Limaye told The Indian Express.
Many activists have come down heavily on the Forest Department for what they termed as “murder/poaching” of the tigress, nicknamed Avni. The activists criticised the sequence of entire operation, saying the cubs should have been captured before killing the tigress. They reasoned that it was difficult for such small cubs (about 11-month-old) to survive in the wild without their mother.
“We have put up small baits, like pigs, in the area to lure them. We have also intensified the search operation with greater manpower,” Limaye said. Defending their decision on killing the tigress, Limaye said the priority was to prevent further human tragedy. He also claimed that capturing the cubs first would have made the tigress aggressive.
“We sighted the tigress first. That, too, during what was basically a vigil operation to secure trouble-free passage of villagers on the Borati-Ralegaon road. So, we took a chance to tranquilise her but she tried to attack and hence had to be shot at in self-defence. If we had captured the cubs first, you can imagine how aggressive the tigress would have become and the danger to human lives would have been much greater,” he said.
But should anything go wrong with the cubs, the department will feel the heat from wildlife activists. “We are seized of that. But we have been doing our job honestly and our intentions are bona fide. Nobody would have wanted the situation to derail to such an extent that people would have taken the law into their hands and done something like what happened in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve today when angry people crushed a tiger under a tractor,” Limaye said.
Asked if sharpshooter Shafath Ali Khan and his son Asghar, who have since returned to Hyderabad, would be recalled to capture the cubs, Limaye said, “No. They were here because there was a shoot order. Now their presence isn’t required.”