Avni derails Assam’s hunt for F-03

Avni derails Assam’s hunt for F-03

F-03, the Royal Bengal tigress, camera trapped in December last year. photo credit/Dhansiri forest division, Assam.

Her "extraordinary" ability to sniff human movements has failed at least 12 attempts to trap F-03, a Royal Bengal tigress since she strayed off the Orang National Park in central Assam in November last year.

Just when the forest department was mulling a "strong step" before inhabitants in the 30-odd villages become her target, killing of Avni (T-1), the man-eater tigress in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal, and the protests that followed have come as a cropper.

“After Avni’s killing, we are confused about how to go ahead. We tried to trap her, tranquilise her and even used nets, but she has an extraordinary capacity to sniff human movement and give a slip to every attempt we have made so far,”  M K Sarma, divisional forest officer, Udalguri district, under which falls Borobazar area, where F-03 is reportedly hiding, told DH on Tuesday.

The tigress, aged about 12 years, has killed at least 60 animals, mainly pigs and goats and has attacked a cow. This has left people in at least six villages on the fringe of the park vulnerable and scared. “She has now moved out to Borgora tea estate, about 4-km southwest, and is probably hiding in the paddy fields. People may come face-to-face anytime as this is a harvesting season. Tea garden workers are scared. But we have stopped our operation as it is difficult to track her in the paddy field,” Sarma said.

Dipen Boro, a local leader of All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) said villagers are getting angry and fast losing faith on the forest department’s assurance to trap her and could go for her kill anytime.

“A tigress was poisoned there two years ago after it strayed from Orang and killed their animals. After that we requested the villagers to stay calm and not to kill the national animal again. But if the forest department fails to nab her quickly, she may meet the same fate,” he said. Members of the influential students’ body are planning to block the NH-15 soon to put pressure on the Assam government to trap the tiger.

High density of tigers in Organg National Park is leading tigers like F-03, the code name given by the forest department, to stray to fringe villages. A camera trap census in 2017 said there are 24 tigers in the 78.9-sqkm Orang National Park.

“The National Tiger Conservation Authority is surprisingly silent and the state forest department has failed in the past one year. The tigers move out of the park to the vast riverine grasslands on the fringes for preys and water. A protective fencing demarcating the villages and the grassland can prevent human and cattle being targets,” said Jayanta Kumar Das, an honorary wildlife warden, Udalguri district.

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