Avni Tigress shooting- a crisis of governance in co-existence between man and animal

VK Bahuguna

(Writer is a former civil servant)
The social activism is a sign of a vibrant, responsive and progressive society. Indian social activism these days is assuming gigantic proportions in every field and, some time emotive activism devoid of objectivity derails the smooth functioning of institutions of governance and creates confusion among public. The latest in a series is the shooting down of a man eating tigress in Maharashtra's Yavatmal district.

For past few weeks the animal right group is severely castigating in social media the Maharashtra government for killing of man eating Tigress Avani in the 'Pandharkawada' forests in Yavatmal district. They charge the forest department for killing the tigress in cold blooded and unprofessional manner so much so that Union Women and Social Justice Minister Mrs Maneka Gandhi has dubbed the killing of tigress as straight case of crime and had raised the heckle by demanding sacking of the Maharashtra Forest Minister Mr Mungantiwar. The state government on 10th November had set up an inquiry committee to prove the death. Let us passionately examine the facts from the point of view of rule of law as also from the point of view of overall animal welfare, moral and professional ethos.

The Tigress Avni was eliminated on the night of 2nd November 2018 with the help of a sharp shooter Asgar Ali. The Tigress had killed 13 people during last two years and due to public pressure the Chief Wildlife Warden seemed to have ordered it to be either captured or killed as she was found to be dangerous for the human life. Even Mumbai High Court had after initial refusal allowed the shooting and Supreme Court refrained from interfering.

Strictly speaking the forest department was within legal boundaries in neutralizing the man eating Tigress. The Chapter III of Wild Life Act 1972 deals with Hunting of Wild Animals subject to provisions of Chapter IV under section 11(a) empower the Chief Wildlife Warden to order elimination of such animals. The relevant section 11(a) reads as "the Chief Wildlife Warden may, if he is satisfied that any wild animal specified in Schedule 1 (Tiger comes in this schedule) has become dangerous to human life or is so disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery, by order in writing and stating the reasons therefore, permit any person to hunt such animal or cause animal to be hunted". Going by the rule book the foresters were within their power to take the decision for elimination of the man eating tigress. However, going by the post mortem and other reports there are certain questions to be answered by the foresters on this matter. Further, the issue is not simply killing of a tigress but involve larger issues of systemic malfunctioning of our social fibre and governance under which we are surely and certainly destroying the living space of wild life by fragmenting their corridors and encroaching on their habitats. When the results of our irrational behaviours are visible like killing of 13 people by the Avni and subsequently her elimination" the hue and cry being raised on her death is only emotionally targeting the forest department and not discussing about the real causes that led to this situation in the country which is bound to increase in future.

The Tiger conservation in India is an internationally acclaimed success story for the foresters of India and Tigers being a prolific breeder the conservation efforts are not going to be derailed by the unfortunate killing of Avni. However, the way this issue of Avni Tigress was handled over last two years in Maharashtra and the manner she was killed does not absolve the foresters and others sitting in government from the criticism that they did handled it in an unprofessional manner. The moot question here is- Why the state government, the district administration and forest departments did not take proactive action when the first human killing was done by the tigress as per the standard operating procedures issued by the Government of India. Professionally it needs to be examined what was the order of Chief Wildlife Warden and needs to be ascertained if the order was for tranquilising or for killing the tigress. If order was to tranquilize, then why the forest department lacked basic capacity of firing the dart gun and even why for months they were not able to train one of their staff? If it was a considered professional decision to kill her due to management compulsions, whether all the protocol in rule book was followed before arriving at this decision?. According to the shooter Ali “we have been roaming in the forests for many days and after two forest guards identified the animal as T1, a forester fired the dart. But in a fraction of second she charged towards us with a roar. If I had not opened fire, it would have killed 2-3 people," recalling that the big cat was just 6-8 meter away. But the post mortem report as it appeared in media says the tigress was shot when it was facing away from the shooter and the dart found lodges in its left thigh did not show any impact of being fired from a tranquilising gun. If this statement in post mortem report is true (subject to verification) contradicts the self defence theory and is a serious matter of suppression of facts. The Chief Wild life Warden has to come clean on this criticism. It was a long pending correct decision to remove the tigress from this forest area but efficient forest manager would suggest if the elimination could have been well planned and tigress captured and sent to a Zoo. If it was a right decision to kill her, the Chief Wildlife Warden should tell the world what happened in the night of 2nd November in the field and what were the orders of the state government. Honest professionals must face the public and clear the smoke. The meat of the story however, is here. The Tiger population has been steadily increasing in the country. In 2006, there were 1,411 tigers in the country, which increased to 2,226 in 2014 and 2018 census data is not yet out. The forest area in Yavatmal district is 19.9 % (2606 of the geographic area (13,582 as per the Forest Survey of India's State of Forest Report 2017. Though tigers are increasing, there has been a decrease of 6 forest areas in Yavatmal district compared to 2015 assessment. The state government had been diverting forest lands in Yavatmal for setting up of cement factory and other projects without assessing its impact on wildlife. Though the Tiger population is going up at an average of 30% and conservation measures bearing fruits, the forest area and the wildlife habitat is shrinking with the net results that the new young tigers seeking their territories in new fragmented forests honeycombed by villages with very little prey base. The Tigress Avni and its two cubs were the victims of circumstances due to shortage of food and a secure territory. The Avni killing had thrown timely challenge for the foresters, all state governments and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to seriously treat the disease of shrinking habitat and fragmentation of forestlands rather than treating symptoms and must pull up their socks and find professional solutions for such situations specially how to consolidate forest catchments for food and water security, fragmentation forestlands in tiger and elephant corridors etc. The foresters must upgrade their infrastructure and professional capability to meet such challenges professionally, and show their spine in the same way the unsung foresters had shown. For their grit, determination and professional capability had led to Tigers, other wild life and forest bio-diversity to survive in India in difficult situations. In the end, we must remember that notwithstanding perceived lapses on the part of authorities which will be clear after fair inquiry the intention of governance were correct as we must also feel for 13 poor Indians who lost their life. Now forest department must locate the two cubs and rehabilitate them. 1350 words

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