igers are among the most endangered animals on Earth. In India, half of the planet’s remaining 7,000 wild tigers live; tigers face a number of threats, especially from a growing human population. More than a billion people live in India today, and development is rapidly expanding into what was once largely a tiger territory. Maybe the Avni Tigress is the best example of encroached jungles; they are coming in those areas and trying to protect themselves by killing the assumed threat from a human. The environmentalists nonetheless remain optimistic. The tiger has been a symbol of strength and might for thousands of years. Hundreds of years ago, there were many more tigers on Earth than there are today. An estimated 40,000 tigers used to live in India, an area that once included modern-day Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other neighbouring lands. The graceful cats stalk, crouch, and explosively pounce on their prey, which includes deer, pigs, cattle, and other large animals. But now, the forests are converted to concrete jungles and the wild animals are approaching human territory for survival.
I don’t want to argue or debate on why Avni was shot dead, but I wholeheartedly condemn the incidence! It has been almost 12 days since tigress Avni’s death and her 10-month-old cubs are now claimed to be found in a forest in Maharashtra. The officials were unable to trace the cubs in the Pandharkawada forest area of Yavatmal district, Maharashtra, for the last 13 days. While the officials also presumed that they might have died of starvation or they might have been smuggled or in possession of people who trade animals! There can be any situation; but whatever it is, the core concern is their lives. Maharashtra Forest Department officials have said that they have left chunks of beef and bait animals such as goats for the cubs to eat and hunt, especially around the area that they were last seen around. However, no follow-up information has been provided by them.
Avni’s post-mortem report shows that the tigress last hunted meal about 4-5 days prior to her death. Hence, the cubs would have likely been starving for the past 12 days. When the approval to shoot the tigress was released, it was clearly mentioned that she should be tranquilised first. This should have been followed up by capturing her cubs and then capture the mother. All the claims of the father-son hunter duo of Shafat Ali Khan and Asghar Ali have been debunked as more and more scientific, medical, and forensic evidence expose them in the case of the shooting of tigress Avni. Both the sharp-shooters were obviously aided and assisted by a pliable Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Maharashtra’s Chief Wildlife Warden AK Misra, with seemingly abundant pressure from state Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar.
The Supreme Court and the Bombay High Court not-so-specific on their orders regarding Avni killing, the top court had decided not to interfere with Misra’s September 4 shoot-at-sight order, which was earlier upheld by the Nagpur bench of the high court. The Supreme Court had reiterated that Avni’s cubs should be tranquilised, rescued, and shifted to a rescue centre, and their mother — officially known as T1 — should be tranquilised and captured. She was to be eliminated only if all attempts to capture her failed. But without any trials or attempt to capture her, they straight preferred to kill her. Facing nation-wide criticism from the conservation groups for grossly mishandling the issue, the Maharashtra Forest Department is currently in damage control mode. It has invited an expert from Madhya Pradesh Forest Department to help in field operations to look for the two missing cubs of Avni. Chief Wildlife Warden of Maharashtra AK Misra has written to his counterpart in Madhya Pradesh — a state that was once populous with tigers — to send an experienced officer who is well equipped to handle the situation that has arisen in Yavatmal. Incidentally, the tigress was not inside a tiger reserve but was at least 40 km away from a sanctuary in Pandharkaoda forest division. Many conservationists feel that the tigress could have been tranquillised and quarantined, killing her should have been the last resort. Many of them have accused the state forest department of lacking professional competence to deal with such a situation.
There are 50 tiger reserves in India, which are governed by Project Tiger which is administrated by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). India is home to 70 per cent of tigers in the world. In 2006, there were 1,411 tigers which increased to 1,706 in 2010 and 2,226 in 2014. The total number of wild tigers has risen to 3,890 in 2016 according to the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum. Tigers in India are a conservation success story, hundred years ago, India had tens of thousands of tigers, but by the early 1970s they had dwindled down to a mere 1,200. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi started Project Tiger in 1973, relocating 2,00,000 people away from designated tiger zones, and creating buffer zones between tiger jungles and more developed areas. In 1975, tigers were listed as an endangered species. Tiger numbers have risen and fallen over the years but in January of 2015, there were 2,261 tigers in India — 70 per cent of the world’s wild tigers. (There were about 13,000 non-wild tigers in 2010.)
India has been debating how to better balance conservation and development for decades, and in 2006, the country passed legislation on the rights of forest people, but that was not extended to the Sundarbans. Since then, some things have improved in the buffer zone and a Bangladeshi group called LEDARS has helped many tiger widows on the other side of the border. In central India, a non-profit organisation called Satpuda works with more than 80 villages near tiger reserves to provide jobs, medical care, and education — in addition to doing tiger conservation. There are many NGOs that are training people in villages to do basic psychological counseling as part of a medical team while encouraging highly skilled psychiatric professionals to visit during their vacations. But it will require a lot of political will to address the deep problems in the area: poverty, population growth, changing the climate, and the human-tiger conflicts. If not then, the killing of Tigers will continue and the Indian wildlife would lose its sheen.
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