Govt 'ignored' expert warning against releasing tiger

Govt 'ignored' expert warning against releasing tiger

Did the State government ignore the warning by a feline expert while releasing the tiger captured in the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary in Chikkamagaluru district into the forests of Khanapur in Belagavi district?

The tiger was captured after it killed a woman in Chikkamagaluru. Forest officials later released it into the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary in Belagavi district after which it fatally mauled a pregnant woman last week.

Dr K Ullas Karanth, director for Science-Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society, had warned the government last November against releasing the tiger into the forest. Writing to the director of Project Tiger and the Chief Wildlife Warden on November 17, 2014, Dr Karanth said the tiger, whose homeland was the coffee-grassland buffer area (it was born to a tigress which thrived in this region) adjacent to Bhadra area, should not have been released into the wild after it was captured. He instead suggested releasing a tiger captured at Thithimathi in Kodagu district into the wilderness.

“This tiger has possibly stalked and hunted the woman and shown aggressive behaviour towards humans/vehicles earlier. It is clear that having been raised in the relative security of territorial range, it has lost its instinctive​ fear of human beings. Releasing it back into the wild anywhere, therefore, poses significant, potential risk of it killing the humans again,” Dr Karanth said in the letter.

Recalling some of his observations on the basis of camera trapping data, the felinist said the tiger released into Khanapur forests was named Bhadra_S5146 and his brother Bhadra14_U119. They were born to a tigress named BDT- L115.

“We photo-captured a tigress over the past two-and-a-half years in this area of about 30 sq km. Her home range includes coffee-grassland buffer area adjacent to the Bhadra Tiger Reserve. We have data from April 2012 to September 2014.”

Citing some of the photos and videos by various sources in these coffee estates from September to November 2014 and through the camera traps in September 2014,

Dr Karanth further establishes that the two tigers were cubs of BDT-L115.

“The tiger captured near the human predation site (possibly the one that killed the woman) and the tiger that chased the vehicle three days before that predation event are the same subadult tiger, which we have numbered as Bhadra_S5146 in our database. Another male subadult, which also has been very bold and unafraid of humans in the same locality (which may or may not be involved in the predation), is a male Bhadra14_U119,” he informed.

Explaining that releasing the tiger back into the wild anywhere poses significant, potential risk of it killing human beings again, Dr Karanth says, “At dispersal age, these tigers move over 200-300 km in this landscape. My strong advice is not to release this particular animal, which has killed a human, it is best held in captivity, and being a young animal, it will adapt well. Even releasing it with a radio-collar is not advisable.

With the trauma of captivity, the animal will become wary and will not be easy to capture again if it resumes human predation. If a sub-adult has to be released, the male in Bannerghatta trapped in Thithimathi a few months ago which has not preyed on humans may be a better candidate.

“In the longer term we want more tiger habitats protected, and, without public and political support, that goal will be undermined if human predation events continue in this landscape which now has the largest wild tiger population in the world,” Dr Karanth concluded.

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