Court admits PIL to capture, not kill, tigress T1

Even as India's biggest manhunt is underway to track down tigress Avni or T1 over the last 45 days, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday admitted a petition that prayed that the animal be tranquilised and captured and not eliminated.

Camera traps, drones, sniffer dogs and a hang-glider have been deployed to search for T1 - considered a "maneater" - in areas surrounding the Pandharkawada forest in Yavatmal district in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.

According to reports, the tigress has claimed over a dozen lives in the area - prompting the Maharashtra government to track her for elimination. The PIL filed by Mumbai-based Earth Brigade Foundation and Dr Jerryl Avinash Banait, a medical practicioner from Nagpur, was admitted by a division bench of the Bombay High Court.

"The petition would come up for hearing on 19 October," Dr Banait told DH over phone.

The respondents in the petition include Maharashtra Government, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, National Tiger Conservation Authority, among others. 

A petition in Change.org said: "......the state Forest department has issued fresh 'shoot to kill' order in the name of Avni. The order itself is ambiguous, as it orders to "tranquilise and capture Avni" in one place, and "shoot to kill Avni if she can't be captured" in another place. Courts have now ratified this order after three successive killings in August 2018, which strangely happened after a long gap of more than 6 months."

Shooter row

Dr Banait said that the government has appointed private shooter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, which he said violates the Standard Operating Procedures of the NCTA. The petition pointed out that Khan has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, and has been termed as a controversial shooter.

"Khan was arrested by Karnataka Police in the year 1991– 92 for supplying weapons to Maoists who operated along the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border. Khan had another brush with the law in 2005 when the Karnataka CID (Forests) arrested him for his shooting expeditions, which were punishable under the Wildlife Act of 1972," it said.

The PIL pointed out that "....out of the shooting of tigers by Khan, only T1 was tranquilised in the year 2017, thereby showing the tendency of Khan to resort to elimination of tigers instead of tranquilising or capturing them."

Not a maneater: expert

Wildlife veterinarian Dr Prayag H S said that as far as his assessment goes, T1 is not a man-eater. "Through DNA, you can tell whether it is a leopard or a tiger or for that matter any other animal...not a man-eater or not," he told DH, adding that there is no plan of action as yet. "Once you kill her, what are you going to do with her two cubs," he asked.

He said priority should be to tranquilise and capture the cubs first to secure their wellbeing. Then tranquilise and capture the tigress and send her to the Gorewada Rescue Centre, Nagpur. "It is necessary that T1 tigress be sent to the Rescue Centre as unless scat analysis is done and her predation patterns are observed closely, she cannot be declared a 'man eater' tigress," the PIL stated.

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Court admits PIL to capture, not kill, tigress T1

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