Post-mortem report confirms what we already knew; the bigger crime is that the killing of the tigress was officially mandated
For all the strides we’ve made in tiger conservation, the killing of Avni in Yavatmal forest, who was driven by circumstance to become a man-eater, is a dark spot in man-animal conflict management. Nay, it is a lesson in how not to act and behave with the majestic creature if we want it to thrive in the wild rather than be raised as a lab species in farms as it is in parts of China. The post-mortem investigation into the death of Avni has revealed what we all knew for a long time — it was a hunt and kill mandated by the Maharashtra forest department to facilitate human encroachers and their uninhibited plunder of the forest rather than preserving tiger habitat or sustaining the cycle of man and nature. The report answers a lot of questions that have been raised over the last few weeks. The bullet trajectory indicates that the private sharpshooter shot the tigress from behind and she was not at all charging at the trap team. The dart syringe seems to have not been pelleted from a gun but was snuck in to dress up the carcass. Fact is wildlife trap codes — and even the Supreme Court had cleared killing of Avni as a last resort according to protocol — were grossly violated. Not only that, the forest department went by the 13 human deaths over two years as the only ground to eliminate Avni. Fact is for all her run-ins with humans in her reduced territory, she didn’t prey on them, even while straying into farms. She killed humans as a defence mechanism with conflicting reports on the amount of the kill she had devoured each time. Clearly, she had not turned slothful about her food chain practice. Which explains why the forest department team lured her on a dark night — against the law — with the scent of another tiger and even a perfume to draw her out. She did fall into the trap and on realising she was among human invaders, tried to beat a hasty retreat and run for cover. But she was a split second too late for the hunter’s trained vision. Needless to say then this was just another cold-blooded kill with no vet, trap team or tranquilising shooters in attendance.
The villagers demanded action and the forest department prioritised them over the animal. Worse, her cubs weren’t protected and are now missing, without food and vulnerable to other predators. Worst of all, this has set an example of sanctified and official poaching activity. Going by Avni’s precedent, many more villagers encroaching into already constricted wild habitats will claim attacks by the big cat and other creatures and will now demand an easy kill for the benefit of their livelihood. It also lays in no uncertain terms that an evolved man cannot be an errant but an animal can always turn monster. But do we realise that human greed is eating into forest corridors for the tiger and elephants to move in peace and compelling them to turn aggressive? Humans cannot have territorial curbs but animals must be squeezed in their shrinking ranges and be forced to adapt.
Nobody is assessing the resultant larger changes in animal behaviour. It’s a shame to see another majestic feline, the lion being teased by humans and behaving like a domesticated pet. A viral video of a man tempting the King of Gir with a chicken, dangling and pulling it away and the big cat finally lunging to carry off a trophy without so much as a gnarl, isn’t exactly what anybody wants. After the recent deaths of Gir lions due to a virus, it pains us all to see the wild creatures being increasingly tamed by human circumstance.