SEVEN days after Pandharkawda tigress T1 (Avni) was shot dead, pugmarks found near Chikhli village show that her two 10-month old cubs have managed to survive till date without their mother.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (wildlife) A K Mishra told The Indian Express, “Their pugmarks were found yesterday as well as today near Chikhli village. It shows they have managed to survive without their mother and we hope that there is no imminent danger to their life as there are precedents of even smaller cubs having survived alone in the wild. A six-month-old cub was found wandering alone in Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) in February this year. She wasn’t then seen for about three months but was found dead in May, which showed that cubs can survive alone too. And the PTR cub had died in an attack by a dominant female from the area. In this case, there is only a male, who is their father. So, there is no danger of territorial ambush too. We have spoken to many experts, who have said that there is little to worry about cubs as big as these since they can always survive on small preys like hare, rodents, frogs and even fish.”
He added, “we have stepped up the effort to catch them by deploying about 150 trap cameras in the area where they have been found to be moving.”
Meanwhile, it is being alleged that the post-mortem report of T1 showed that she was probably shot dead first and then the tranquillizer dart was planted on her body. The report says that the dart was found stuck “subcutaneously” (just beneath the skin) on the left hind thigh area. When contacted Shirish Upadhye, one of the government veterinary doctors who performed the post-mortem, said, “there are three levels, where a dart can strike. The subcutaneous level is just beneath the skin. Then there are intra-muscular and intra-venous positions to where it can penetrate. But subcutaneous penetration doesn’t automatically mean that the dart must have been planted posthumously on the body. It is for the forensic experts to determine that. In this case, samples have been sent for forensic tests.”
Another point in the post-mortem report was that the bullet had struck in the left flank just below the left front leg scapula (shoulder bone) and had fractured the right front side scapula. This, according to fresh allegations, meant that the tigress was shot at by shooter Asghar Ali Khan in the direction perpendicular to him. Activists have alleged that if the tigress had charged at the patrol team of which Khan was a member, she should have taken the shot on her forehead or front side. But the perpendicular shot shows that Khan had shot her when she wasn’t attacking the team as was being claimed.
Khan’s father, Shafath Ali Khan, who was authorised by the Forest Department to shoot the tigress, is not denying that the tigress was shot in the perpendicular direction. “But nobody is trying to understand how it all happened. Basically, the four-member team hadn’t gone to the spot near Borati village with the intention to tranquilise or shoot the tigress. As said earlier, it was a weekly market day at Ralegaon tahsil town and people from many villages were walking, cycling or biking on the road for the market. Since many had seen her loitering close to the road, the team was sent to the spot to see to it that no untoward incident happens. It must be noted that after sunset the four authorised police shooters had left for the day. Our team had two members, forest guards Keram and Kendre, who had seen the tigress many times and hence were in a position to identify her. Then we had tranquilising expert Forester Mukhbir Sheikh. It so happened that the tigress suddenly decided to cross the road from the left-hand side of the open vehicle in which the team was seated, when it was decided to take the tranquillisation chance.”
Asked how does he explain the perpendicular firing of gunshot vis-a-vis the team’s claim that the tigress charged at them, Khan said, “the tigress was about 20 metres away when she was hit by the tranquilising dart while crossing the road. Her instinctive reaction was to jump down the left side of the road. And then she suddenly decided to attack the team. She took a kind of semi-circular turn and came sprinting towards the forest guard sitting on the last of the three rows of seats in the open Gipsy and was holding the spotlight trained at her. Tigers are known to charge in the direction of the spotlight. Sensing trouble, Asghar decided to take a shot at her purely to defend his team. Precisely when she came parallel to him – he was seated on the left side seat near the driver, aiming for the spotlight, that Asghar fired the shot from a distance of about eight metres. The bullet hit her on her left flank. So, no wonder if it pierced right inside damaging the right scapula, which falls in that line of fire.”
He said, “instead of praising Asghar for holding his nerve in such a trying and dreadful situation and saving his team’s life, many people are trying to paint him as the villain. More importantly, she died a painless death in one shot unlike in previous cases, when tigress of Pombhurna was sprayed with over 39 bullets.” Asked about the bullet used not being the one prescribed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Khan said, “nor did the policemen authorised to shoot in self-defence had It. And this was an exercise in self-defence. So, the provision can’t be applied in this case.”
Meanwhile, two different probes panels have been constituted to determine the NTCA standard operating procedure was violated in the operation that led to the elimination of the tigress.