Tigress Avni Could Have Been Caught Alive a Year Ago, if Only the Forest Dept Didn’t Drag Its Feet

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As the post-mortem report for the tigress T1 or Avni contradicts the forest department’s claims that she was shot dead after a failed attempt at tranquilizing her, sources in the Maharashtra forest department said that the top brass had failed to take decisive action to track and capture her a year ago – failing which 10 more deaths took place.

The post-mortem witness report, submitted by Nagpur-based wildlife biologist Milind Pariwakam who represented the Maharashtra forest department, concluded that the bullets entry point and its trajectory show that "the animal was facing away from the person who fired the bullet".

It adds that the “fascia (connective tissue under the skin) beneath darted needle was intact” and that the dart didn't appear to be fired by a tranquilizing gun.

This is in direct contradiction to the statements made by Maharashtra Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) A K Misra who had claimed that the tigress was shot dead in self-defence. He had said that a team with a tranquilizer gun and hunter Asghar Ali Khan were tracking the big cat. “Forester Mukhbir Sheikh managed to shoot a tranquilizer 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,” he had claimed.

Speaking to News18.com, Mishra said on Monday, "The team from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is coming on Tuesday to visit the site. Why should I comment or speculate on the postmortem report. I am very busy."

Missed opportunity

In January 2018, the department issued the first order to shoot Avni – but this was stayed by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court, after the court found that she was moving with cubs. The second order came after three successive fatal attacks in August that saw the department fending off angry villagers demanding action. This order was finally upheld by the Supreme Court.

But it was as early as the summer of 2017, that the forest department had the best opportunity to capture Avni alive. “At the time she didn’t have cubs and we had requested the top brass to allow us to track and capture her. But at that point of time, the department didn’t take decisive action and we missed out on the valuable summer months,” said a department source.

Summers are ideal for tracking and capture of tigers. Following rains, the area gets covered with dense undergrowth and bushes, including the near impenetrable lantana. “In the summer, you can see the pug marks clearly. Water sources are less and that allows you to track the animal more easily,” said the source.

The local forest department and experts working to track the tigress had asked for elephants and specialised teams to try and catch the animal alive last summer. “But we never heard back,” said the source. However, Mishra refused to comment on the delay.

Political firestorm

Since her death, a political firestorm has erupted within the BJP and its allies. Union minister Maneka Gandhi lashed out at forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar over the ‘ghastly murder’.

In a statement, she 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.”

The forest minister responded alleging that the Supreme Court had given the green signal and that she was shot only after the purported attack on the forest department team on the ground.

In a statement, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray called the panel set up by the Maharashtra forest department a ‘farce’, demanding that it be formed under a retired judge. “Those who had given ‘supari’ (contract) to kill the tigress have been made members of the (probe) committee. The committee is a farce.”