TIGER LOVERS plan to hold prayer meetings across the country on Saturday in the memory of tigress T1, popularly known as Avni, who was shot dead on November 2 last year.
Shoot at sight orders were issued against Avni by then Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) A K Mishra after it came to light that the tigress was responsible for at least five of the 13 human deaths reported in Yavatmal district’s Pandharkawda are since 2016.
Activist Jerryl Banait, who had challenged the shoot at sight order in court, said, “Tiger lovers from many cities will remember Avni by praying for all wild animals in general tomorrow. Prayer meetings will be held in cities including Nagpur, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Sagar, Bilaspur, Goa and Silchar. Prayers will also be held in countries like France and the US.”
On the other hand, villagers from Pandharkawda area have invited T1’s shooters Shafat Ali Khan and Asghar Ali Khan to commemorate the occasion. “We have been invited by the sarpanches of Vedshi and Sawarkheda villages. They want to felicitate us for giving them relief. We will be honoring the invite tomorrow,” said Shafat Ali.
Ankush Muneshwar, sarpanch of Vedshi village — where one of T1’s victims, Gulab Mokashi, belonged — said: “We wish to thank them. We had lived in terror for two years and 13 villagers died.”
Hyderabad-based private shooter Shafat Ali Khan was invited by the forest department to execute the killing, inviting the wrath of tiger lovers. Machinery, including drones, hang-glider and special dogs, was deployed with a base camp being set up for 24×7 monitoring of the tigress. Avni kept dodging the shooters for about two months before being shot dead by Khan’s son Asghar Ali.
The killing had led to a lot of protests and two inquiries — one by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the other by the state. While the Khans had maintained that the tigress had tried to attack the tracking team and was hence shot dead in self defence, the inquiries had questioned the theory and the manner in which T1 was killed.
“Both the state and NTCA reports have highlighted the wrong manner in which Avni was shot dead but no action has been initiated against the shooters. We have moved high court but there has been no progress. The forest department is yet to file an affidavit in court,” said Banait.
The current PCCF (Wildlife), Nitin Kakodkar, however, maintained that the department has filed the “required affidavit”. “If the activists wish to organise meetings, they are free to do it. But the tigress was ordered to be killed and the order was confirmed by the Supreme Court. There is nothing pleasurable about the fact that she was shot dead. As regards to the manner in which T1 was killed, the matter is sub-judice,” he added.
After Avni’s death, the department had captured her female cub T1C2 and sent her to the Pench Tiger Reserve. “She is doing fine. Finally, she has to be released in the wilderness. We will take a call on that in the near future,” Kakodkar said. Avni’s male cub, T1C1, however, continues to evade capture. Kakodkar said he was last captured on trap cameras on July 5. “He may have moved out of the area.”
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