To the horror of conservationists everywhere, India’s highest court has ruled for a tigress to be shot to death by forest rangers, after authorities claimed that she’d killed 13 people in the last two years.
The court however, also issued a condition that the rangers should attempt to capture the animal first.
The tigress, known as T1, located in the western state of Maharashtra, is believed to be responsible for the deaths of 13 people since January 2016 in the state’s eastern Yavatmal district.
Three were killed in August alone.
In one particularly grisly case, as much as 60% of the victim’s body had been consumed by the tigress, according to official records.
The man-eating tiger brings to mind the lions of Tsavo, who killed an estimated 35 people in the Tsavo region of Kenya at the turn of the 20th century.
India’s tiger population is strictly protected and any attempt to kill one of the animals requires approval from authorities under the country’s Wildlife Protection Act.
Conservationists, though, questioned the evidence linking the animal to attacks on humans, which forced the case to the Supreme Court.
Despite evidence, including photographs presented by forest officials in Yavatmal linking the tigress to attacks on humans, campaigners say there are inconsistencies in the investigation.
“Any animal can be declared a ‘man eater.’ This labelling is a colonial hangover,” said conservationist Sarita Subramaniam.
“There needs to be a scientific study done with modern technology to label a tiger a ‘man eater’.”
Subramaniam says investigators need to carry out a full DNA analysis to identify the species involved in the attack.
“The post-mortem reports said the puncture wounds were a particular size, but wild boars can also attack humans. There are scavengers like hyenas … If they are relying on camera trap images, we need to see the date and time stamps. Everything is just based on the presence of the tiger in the area based on pugmarks.”
Capture or Kill?
In the ruling, the court sided with local authorities in allowing forest rangers to shoot the tiger if they fail to capture it, striking a blow to activists and campaigners battling to save the tigress.
Expressing her disappointment at the ruling, Subramaniam questioned whether officials would make a fair attempt to tranquilise and capture the tigress, which is also a mother to two cubs, and move them to captivity.
“They (the forest officials) only plan to kill, which we suggested to the court, because they have issued an order to hire a hunter,” said Subramaniam, who is the founder of Mumbai-based non-governmental organisation Earth Brigade.
“If your intention is to capture, why have you hired a hunter?”
Officials will also try to tranquilise a male tiger called T2, which has been seen in the same area.
T2 is not believed to be responsible for any human deaths.
The tigers were last seen in a conservation area in Yavatmal district.
Human threat to tigers
Deforestation and the encroachment of human habitations have resulted in increased contact between people and tigers.
“The depletion of forest land through cattle grazing is the biggest problem. Tigers aren’t encroaching on human habitats. It’s human beings who are continuously coming in,” wildlife conservationist Ajay Dubey told CNN.
At the start of the 20th century, nearly 40,000 tigers roamed freely in what was then British India.
According to the last census conducted in 2014 by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, there are now just 2,226 tigers in the wild.
Both Subramaniam and Dubey now plan to appeal the Supreme Court dismissal.
“We want a transparent operation. We are going to approach the governor of Maharashtra to protect this tiger. It is wrong especially as she is the mother of two cubs. How can you have the right to eliminate a defenseless mother?” said Dubey.
Subramaniam also wants a review in the process.
“Any court that issues a shoot-to-kill order does not ever write ‘shoot to kill,’ they always say ‘try and capture, failing which, you shoot.’
“There needs to be a policy where one order is exclusively for capturing and if those attempts have failed, then a separate order is issued for shooting the tiger,” she said.
In spite of the threats that India’s tiger population faces, numbers are gradually rising.
Since 2006, when the tiger population sat at 1,411, numbers have gone up by nearly 60%. But more work still needs to be done.
“For us, this isn’t about one tiger. It’s about the species,” said Subramaniam.
Source: Manveena Suri/CNN International