The man-eater tigress T-1, or Avni, was shot in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal this month when it was “facing away” from the shooter. And the dart found lodged in its left thigh did not show any impact of being “fired from a syringe projector” (tranquilising gun).
These conclusions in the post-mortem witness report submitted by a representative of the Maharashtra forest department contradict the department’s own claim that the tigress was gunned down by them in self-defence after it charged at the team that had fired a tranquiliser dart to immobilise the animal.
The post-mortem was conducted by four veterinarians, and the witness report was submitted by Nagpur-based wildlife biologist Milind Pariwakam, who was the representative of the Maharashtra forest department.
On November 3, Maharashtra Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) A K Misra, had said that a team with a tranquiliser gun along with sharpshooter Asghar Ali Khan was patrolling in a vehicle when they came across the tigress in Ralegaon the previous day. “Forester Mukhbir Sheikh managed to shoot a tranquiliser dart at her. But she got furious and charged at the team, forcing Asghar to shoot in self-defence from a distance of about 8-10 metres,” Misra had said.
The witness report, however, includes two diagrams to illustrate the bullet’s “entry point, [a] place where [the] bullet was lodged and the trajectory of the bullet” showing “that the animal was facing away from the person who fired the bullet”.
The conclusion on the impact of the tranquilising dart is equally damning. While the post-mortem report notes that “fascia beneath darted needle was intact”, the witness report includes photographs to elaborate that “the cannula of the dart had gone into the sub-cutaneous layer and had not penetrated into the underlying muscle”.
The witness report states: “There was no haemorrhage observed in the muscles at the darting site. Dart fired from a syringe projector (tranquilising rifle) always leaves a significant and obvious haematoma, which was not observed in this case.”
PCCF (Wildlife) Misra said he was yet to examine the report. “I cannot comment on the specifics before Monday. However, the department has already ordered an inquiry into the events of the day (November 2) and any conclusion is premature at this stage,” Misra told The Indian Express. Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Sunil Limaye, also said that discrepancies, if any, would be resolved once the probe was completed.
Maharashtra Minister of Forests Sudhir Mungantiwar has ordered an inquiry into the events leading to T-1’s death on November 2 by a committee with two independent experts — Bilal Habib from Wildlife Institute of India and Anish Andheria from Wildlife Conservation Trust — among the members.
Speaking to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, a Maharashtra forest official said: “Going by these findings of the autopsy, the tigress could not have been charging at the team if it was facing away from the shooter. And if the dart was not fired from a tranquillising gun, probably the carcass was dressed up to show an attempt at tranquilising before shooting the animal. It is possible that senior officers were misinformed by certain field staff who allowed private shooters to move on their own.”
Rajesh Gopal, former head, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), blamed the “circus” on lack of professionalism. “When you don’t invest in capacity building, fail to intervene at the right time, invite private parties and let them run amok, you are bound to end up in such a mess. This is a textbook case of how not to handle a conflict situation,” Gopal said.
Under NTCA guidelines, a post-mortem must be conducted in the presence of one representative each from the state forest department and the NTCA. The Authority has already constituted a three-member team — including an independent expert from Wildlife Trust of India — to investigate the circumstances of the shooting on November 2. The team is scheduled to reach Maharashtra on November 13.
The killing of the tigress had triggered a war of words within the BJP, with Union Woman and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi lashing out at Mungantiwar over what she termed as a “ghastly murder”.
In a series of tweets and a press statement, Maneka wrote: “I am deeply saddened by the way the tigress Avni has been murdered by a professional anti-national killer at the behest of the minister in Yavatmal, Maharashtra. It is nothing but a straight case of crime… Sudhir Mungantiwar, Minister for Environment and Forests, Maharashtra gave orders for the killing.”
Mungantiwar responded by pointing out that the Supreme Court had allowed the tigress to be shot and that it was done only after it tried to attack forest officials who attempted to tranquilise it. Asked about Maneka’s comments, Mungantiwar had said: “In her heart, she has a lot of love for animals but along with it, I am sure, there is love for human beings also.”
Explained Snippets: Tiger growth in states where they were killed, elsewhere
Of the 13 people killed in tiger attacks in the Pandharkawda divisional forest in over two years, at least five deaths were attributed to Avni. Asghar Ali, who shot the tigress, is the son of well-known sharpshooter Nawab Shafat Ali. The six-year-old tigress is survived by her two cubs who are 10 months old.
The first order to shoot T1 was issued in January but was stayed by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court after the tigress was found to be moving with her cubs. The second order came after the three successive fatal attacks in August, leading to massive public outrage. Again, the activists went to court. On September 6, the High Court, and on September 11, the Supreme Court disposed of their petition.
The operation to capture or kill T1 and capture her cubs had been going on since then, making it one of the longest such in the country to capture or kill a tiger.