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Fresh ammunition against BJP govt?

Thursday, November 08, 2018
By Bharatkumar Raut

'Avni', a man-eater tigress fell to the bullet of a professional hunter in the forest area of Amravati district a week ago. However, the mystery and the controversy which surrounded her life and death refuse to die even today. Now the 'wild-life' story has taken a new turn like a Hindi TV serial. Now it is surrounded by petty politics and politicians; that is government verses animal lovers and the BJP verses its opponents. If the controversy does not die down soon, it would turn into fresh ammunition to be used against the BJP government.

Now the Congress and other political-social forces are out to gun down Maharashtra Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar.  He needs to press the panic button now to save his seat and power.

Wild life has always been a matter of prime concern not only to the lovers of wild life and environmentalists but also common people and of course the government. Thus, the death of tigress Avni in her prime is always a tragedy, no matter the circumstances that surround it. Avni was shot dead just before midnight on Friday. Her live capture would have made everyone feel better - especially if she was not placed in a zoo but maintained in a secluded area far from human habitation like the facility available in Pench Tiger Reserve in Vidarbha Region. It would not, however, have made Avni feel any better as captivity would have created its own level of suffering and stress.

Wild tigress not meant for captivity
A wild five-year-old tigress will not really adapt to captivity, no matter how nice the cage. I firmly believe that Avni, who is believed to have killed at least 13 villagers in Maharashtra in the last two years, had to be eliminated, whether that meant tranquilisation or shooting. However, I also believe that if the Forest Department had been proactive with a proper management plan in place from the beginning, when the first person was killed, the entire outcome could have been very different.

The death of the wild cat is not the end of the tragedy. Her cubs, which are a little over a year old, are still at large. They will be caught and placed in a rescue centre in Nagpur. While the Forest Department says that the cubs will be kept isolated in the hope of future release, it is really unlikely it will ever happen. Wild cats are not the easiest animals to relocate. In the case of these cubs, however they are young enough that they don't have established territories, so if they are moved far enough, they will not make a move back to where they were originally caught like a lot of adult wild tigers do with their homing instinct. This would normally mean they could be released but these cubs are also young enough to not have had the entire training by their mother to be fully self sufficient.

Even if they are and can survive on their own in the wild, there is another challenge. They have lived with a mother who trusted issues with people and they have observed her killing people. This by no means makes them potential man eaters but it might make them always aggressive towards human beings. The cubs in the last few months have also been in hiding with their mother while a team of 150 forest guards armed with sticks, guns and cameras hunted for them. Their exposure to people has been extreme and negative. They have probably also witnessed their mother's death at the hands of the hunter. Now, they will be hiding again trying to avoid capture. They will, however, be captured and that too will be traumatic for them.

The cubs are not young enough to forget the trauma yet they are young enough that they will have to be held in captivity for a few more months before they become old enough for release in the forest. In those months their familiarity with people will only increase as will their mistrust. It will always be a potential gamble to release them into any forest as there is no way to guarantee human free places even if the only humans are forest guards.  Thus, the reality might be that both of Avni's cubs live in captivity for the rest of their lives. In effect, three tigers in their prime that have been removed from the wild forests.

Many more puzzles to be solved
Avni is dead and gone but has left behind many questions to answer and many more puzzles to be solved. Why was Avni shot at night? It is generally believed that all tranquilising is meant to stop after dark as chances of losing an animal once tranquilised in the dark are quite high. The Forest Department has said that a patrolling jeep was in the area where the tigress had been spotted that evening by several people. This might be entirely true as she was shot in that vicinity. However then the question is what was a hunter doing with the patrolling team? It only makes sense for him to have been there if the decision had been taken to shoot her if tranquilisation failed - and since this was in the dark and late at night , there is a room to believe that  there was no real plan to tranquilise, but only to shoot.

Taking a cue from the controversy, political forces showed a quickness matching wild animals to demand sacking of Mungantiwar. Shiv Sena, the friend-cum-foe of the ruling alliance has also entered the ring to bash up the BJP administration. Now that the Sena has also demanded Mungantiwar's ouster, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has to enter the fray and extinguish the fire sooner than later.  

The hunter in question is Asghar, the son of the famed sharpshooter Shafath Ali Khan, from Hyderabad. Did Asgar too have a formal invite? If not how he was allowed to accompany the official guards with a lethal weapon? Or was the Forest Department predetermined to kill Avni by any means or person? This question needs to be answered as Union Minister Maneka Gandhi has raised it and has also quoted criminal cases against him.

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