Wildlife lovers cry foul over shooting of Avni

The hiring of a sharp-shooter to kill ’man-eater’ Avni and orphan her cubs has left many seething

Avni was shot dead on November 2 by Asgar Ali Khan.

Wildlife lovers are up in arms over the killing of tigress Avni, known officially as T1.

Believed to be responsible for the death of 13 people in 26 villages, Avni was killed in Yavatmal district, Maharashtra, on November 2 by Asgar Ali, son of sharp-shooter Nawab Shafat Ali.

The Maharashtra government has come under fire for the operation. Activists say Avni is just the latest in a list of animals paying the price for shrinking forested areas and declining prey.

 


Colonel Nawaz Shariff

Colonel (Dr) Nawaz Shariff, Former DIG of police, chief veterinarian, PFA Wildlife Hospital

“It was a barbaric act. The order that authorised the killing of the animal was wrong. The tigress could have easily been tranquillised and captured, with the plethora of modern equipment available now. And what about the cubs now? No one knows whether they are alive, have they eaten, are they ill?”

Responding to a report that the tigress charged at the hunters after she was hit with the dart, Col Shariff snorts in contempt. “That is all hogwash. I am a trained veterinarian with lot of experience. A dart has to enter into the musculature of the animal for the medicine to take effect. If fired properly, the dart will stay upright. From the photos of the tigress after she was killed, we can see the dart lying limply on the side; which means it just entered the skin.”

“There was no vet with the team. Since the operation was planned in advance and it was going on for so long, how can you not have a vet to deal with an emergency?” he wonders.

The cubs have to be captured, radio-collared and reared in a wildlife park. There is no way they can survive on their own. They will either die of dehydration or be killed by other big cats, he says.

 

 


Shaaz Jung

Shaaz Jung, Wildlife photographer, cinematographer and big cat specialist

“Some members of the forest department are so obsessed with ‘protection’ that they have forgotten the basics of ‘conservation’. We have a Wildlife Protection Act, but lack a powerful Conservation Act. I live in rural India, on the periphery of a forest and in the heart of the man-animal conflict. I see wildlife drifting through human settlements where coexistence is nothing but a pipe dream. Conservation starts in our backyard with our own people. Our wildlife will prosper if we work create a dialogue between locals and the officials. Anvi is just another example of how there is absolutely no dialogue. We did not kill a man-eater, we killed our national animal.”

 

 

 


Sudhir Shivaram

Sudhir Shivaram, Founder and director, Sudhir Shivaram Photography

“It is not acceptable. This is a tigress with two cubs in her own area. We have encroached on her territory, so as a mother and a wild animal, she will seek to protect herself and her family. Why was a professional hunter hired for the operation? If the Maharashtra forest department lacked the expertise, they could have taken the help of their counterparts in Madhya Pradesh or Karnataka. They shouldn’t have appointed a hunter to do the job. That said, human life has to be respected. It is easy for us to sit in cities and say villagers should not venture into forested areas but for locals, livelihood depends on the forests. The villagers will outrage if one of them is killed and it is the forest department that has to face their ire. They find it difficult to control this mob — one that can even enter a ranger’s office or residence and rip him apart.”

 

 

 

 


Alexandra Gade

Sandra Hendricks, better known as Alexandra Gade, Animal lover

“Avni was not a man-eater. It has been reiterated a thousand times that out of the 13 bodies found, DNA tests were conducted only on three and tiger DNA was found only on one of the bodies. She was shot sideways and even though Ashgar Ali said he did it in self-defence, many holes remain in that claim.

We have encroached on her jungle. Even then animal activists offered sustainable measures, chalked out by experts, on how the villagers could be protected. But none of the measures were adopted by the Maharashtra government.

Her orphaned cubs, who have not yet learned to hunt, are starving in the forests. Again, animal activists have approached the government, suggesting ways to find the cubs. And again their measures are being thwarted. It is high time we decided as a nation if we are going to allow this to happen again.”

 

 

Maneka vs Maharashtra govt

The killing had sparked a war of words between Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi and Maharashtra Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar. Maneka publicly criticised the Maharashtra government over the operation. Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray also said the person who killed Avni was a ‘bloodthirsty hunter’.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has announced a probe into the killing of Avni. Sharpshooter Shafat Ali Khan has said he is ready to face any probe. He has also threatened legal action against those making personal allegations against him.

 

Shooter talk

Sharpshooter Asgar Ali Khan, son of private hunter Shafat Ali Khan, says he fired at the tigress when she charged at the open-top Gypsy he was in. If he had not opened fire, she would have killed two or three people, he claims. “The operation went out of control and ended in big disappointment,” he told reporters.

The father-son duo say they are now part of the operation to capture the two ten-month-old cubs of Avni and shift them to a rescue centre.

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Wildlife lovers cry foul over shooting of Avni

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