At the outset, it seems like a very simple story — there is a tiger named Avni (meaning earth in Sanskrit), that she killed 13 villagers, and therefore she was declared to be a man-eater and needs to be killed. Very simple – tiger kills men, men kill the tiger.
However, first remember this: even as you read this, there’s a large team out there in the forest looking for Avni to bring her down. She’s in hiding, running acre to acre looking for cover and evading the bullet. Read the rest of story keeping mind the image of a young mother, with two bubbling toddlers running for life to protect herself, for she knows without her, her babies will either starve to death or spend 25 years captive in a dinghy jail eating packaged food!
Obviously, animal activists and animal lovers are outraged – first of all it’s killing an animal, killing a young animal with a long life ahead of her, killing a mother of two babies, infants really, killing our national animal, killing one of the very few of an endangered species remaining, and killing a big cat when India celebrates Wildlife Week (ironically, the theme was Big Cats in 2018 – predators under threat!). So there are enough reasons to spare Avni.
But these are more sentimental and emotional reasons, which won’t stand the test of law, and will surely not impress people whose hearts don’t beat for animals. What do those facets look like? Is the government right in its decision to kill Avni?
Avni has not ventured out of the forest even once – she has not gone in search of human prey, she has not attacked anyone outside the forest. So, whatever deaths have happened have happened to people trespassing into forest areas (meaning wholly restricted and controlled areas) – so instead of showing people that trespassing is illegal, punishable, and comes with dire consequences, the government is providing compensation, and aiming its guns, literally, on the tiger! Are we thus encouraging trespassing or thwarting? People must be educated and warned about the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972!
Where bodies have been found, they have been near cattle carcasses, and in the depths of the forest – clearly indicative of cattle taken for grazing into restricted areas. Cattle are of course lush prey for wild animals and there’s no point making it look like a crime or an unmanageable situation.
It takes a SCAT analysis to confirm the feeding habits and understanding of ingested food to confirm if Avni has killed humans and for food (as against killing in self-defence if the men were a threat to her). No such lab tests were conducted, yet there seems to be a tearing hurry to terminate her?
A DNA test can confirm a tiger or tigress attack and go a long way in ascertaining the predatory nature of the cat. Of the 13 bodies found within, DNA tests were done only on 3, and of the 3 one showed tiger attack, one showed tigress attack and third was inconclusive. Which then warrants the question, why weren’t the other 10 bodies lab tested?
RTI documents reveal that over 18 sq km of the forest area have been encroached upon – that’s human inhabitation biting into the precious forest area. What is the government doing about this – where is the political will to reclaim the land and put people in their right place?
And for those pouncing on this saying what will poor villagers do but graze their cattle, records show that the cattle grazing there are not those of poor villagers who must do this for their daily bread – but cattle from the rich animal farming community from faraway places who choose this area for its abundance of rich fodder! Its business, using the low cost of fodder!
Forest Minister in the Maharashtra Government, Sudhir Mungantiwar’s constituency is Ballarpur – barely 100 km away, and he’d surely take pride in showing great development work in his district and constituency, especially since tigers can’t vote!
So, then the question arises why do they want the tiger killed? Let’s understand the terrain a bit. Avni rules the forests in Ralegaon area of Yavatmal district of Maharashtra. And this area has been piquing the interest of many businesses for a while now. And why?
The entire region adjoining and inside the forest is rich in many minerals – mostly limestone, coal, and dolomite. And limestone is a big attraction for businesses with interests in Cement, Construction, and infrastructure which automatically draws in the big players.
Reliance – known to be close to the government at the highest level has been given close to 500 hectares of forest land to set up a cement factory. Reliance has since sold their land to the MP Birla Group, a conglomerate with extensive interests and ambitious growth plans in Cement, which is setting up a massive cement factory in the vicinity.
Jinbhuvish Power Generation is setting up a 600 MW coal-based thermal power project in Yavatmal, at the cost of Rs 3,450 crore, a plant spread over 800 acres.
Now, let us find answers to critical questions. So, now, who benefits by getting rid of the big ones in the forest? And what stops more development in and near the forests? How can we bring down a forest to make the most of the wood, minerals, and richness inside? What are a few tigers when there are thousands of billions of currency out here?
Avni is not a maneater. She’s not on a human killing spree, she hasn’t ventured out of her territory – a territory supposedly marked by the government as hers. She has been evasive and in hiding, the typical sign of a cat under threat while a man-eater makes its presence felt and is seen closer to inhabitation. On the contrary, she’s a victim. Her habitat is reducing rapidly and food becoming scarce – when her babies grow up, and that’s hoping they do, they may struggle to find their meal – because not just the habitat but sources of food are also diminishing rapidly as more villagers kill boars and other herbivores for food. Villagers are treating the forest as their own and trespass at will, government rewards are an incentive for those anyway burdened with poor crops and loan debts.
AVNI is a treasure, a truly wild animal, a perfect big cat and a beautiful animal who needs protection. She needs every human to stand up for the right to protect an innocent animal falling victim to corporate greed. She needs every Indian to fight for the system that corners her thus. She doesn’t have to be relocated. She is not short of forest cover, that she has been evasive and invisible for a year now is evidence of that. She has enough food for a few years. What she needs is a protecting agency – read government – that recognises her as a national treasure and gives her the space that’s rightfully hers! A government that has the balls to tell people to keep away and punishes them for disturbing our national animal. A government that can drop its industrial-growth-at-any-cost thinking and looks at the larger biodiversity that the country needs.
She needs you to make the voices to stop her killing louder and firmer, surer and farther. Your voice can do that, ours collectively. So can our votes.
By Anand Siva and S. Krishna Kumar
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of AFTERNOON VOICE and AFTERNOON VOICE does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)