EDITORIAL | Avni killing points to larger problem

EDITORIAL | Avni killing points to larger problem

Tigress Avni’s killing last week underscores the need for India to address human-animal conflicts. According to Maharashtra forest department officials, Avni had killed 13 villagers and was, therefore, a ‘man-eater’. That made her a marked animal. Over the past months, hundreds of forest officials and others had tried to hunt her down, while animal rights activists went to court, appealing for the tigress to be captured alive rather than shot dead. In September, the Supreme Court ruled that Avni could be shot dead. Six-year-old Avni’s fate was now sealed. With forest authorities hiring private sharp-shooters, it was just a matter of time before Avni was eliminated. But Avni’s death does not end this tragic tale. Her two 10-month-old cubs are now motherless and left to fend for themselves. They lack the skills to survive on their own in the jungle and are likely to end up getting killed, too. Avni’s killing raises several questions. On the one hand, what options did forest authorities have? They could have captured her alive, and they indeed claim to have tried but failed. Even if they had captured her, sending a man-eater to a zoo would not have been a sensible option. Sending her off to a remote forest would have only geographically relocated the man-eater.

However, details of forest officials’ accounts of what happened on the night of her killing do not add up. If she was as aggressive as they claim, why were they travelling in open jeeps? Use of tranquillizer darts at night is not standard operating procedure as a tranquillized cat is still difficult to nab, so did they start out to sedate her or were they determined to kill her? Why did the department hire big cat hunters if not to kill Avni? The latter have illegally killed several tigers, leopards and elephants and by hiring them, officials made them heroes in the eyes of local villagers.

While villagers would have heaved a huge sigh of relief on hearing of Avni’s death, their relief may be only temporary. Killing a tiger, even a man-eating one, does not solve the problem of rising human-animal conflicts. In the name of development, we are destroying forest cover and denying the big cat its sanctuary. We are driving tribals out of their traditional lands and forcing them into living on land close to forests and pushing them into conflict with the big cats and other wild animals. The number of tigers, leopards, elephants, humans lost in these conflicts is mounting. This must change. Avni’s tale also underscores the need for clear rules and mandates on dealing with tigers outside protected areas. 

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