Tigress Avni, a six-year-old mother-of-two, was killed by an unauthorised hunter in a highly controversial operation in Maharashtra last week.

New Delhi: The autopsy of tigress Avni has yielded clear evidence of foul play, sources in the Maharashtra government have told ThePrint.

The autopsy report, which is yet to be released by the state forest department, shows that the tigress was shot in her shoulder, with the bullet then tracing a path through her ribs to come out through the other shoulder, sources said.

If true, the finding would fly in the face of claims made by the forest department that the tigress was shot in self-defence, after an attempt to dart her with sedatives led her to charge at the team.

“The forensics clearly show that the tigress was not charging at the team, but instead going somewhere else,” a state government official told ThePrint. “If she was charging at the team, she would have been shot in her face or chest, not her shoulder.”

The claim comes as animal activists raise questions about the delay in the release of the autopsy report.

The six-year-old tigress, an alleged man-eater suspected to have killed at least five human beings, was shot dead in a highly controversial operation last week. The fatal shot was fired by hunter Asghar Ali Khan, the son of the private hunter engaged by the Maharashtra forest department for the operation, which was primarily aimed at tranquilising and capturing Avni.

The tigress was the mother of two 10-month-old cubs, who remain untraceable.

Also read: Orphaned, tigress Avni’s 10-month-old cubs stare at death or captivity

‘Cold-blooded murder’

Sources also told ThePrint that while the forest department had officially said the tigress was shot with a .458 Winchester Magnum rifle, she was actually shot by a .300 Winchester rifle — which is reportedly not a calibre permitted for shooting tigers under the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines.

The NTCA bars the use of any calibre lower than .375 in a tiger hunt to ensure the animal’s death is instant and as painless as possible.

“They are trying to replace the bullet that was recovered from the body during the autopsy,” a state government source had told ThePrint earlier.

The killing of the tigress last week sparked a huge controversy across the country, with several people, including Union minister Maneka Gandhi, calling it a “cold-blooded” murder.

Gandhi, who has been at the forefront of the protest against the tigress’ killing, has even demanded the removal of the Maharashtra forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar.

The controversy over the killing centres on several lapses in the operation. One, the tigress was shot after sunset, even though darting tigers from sunset to sunrise is strictly prohibited. Two, the shooting was carried out by a person not authorised to shoot Avni. And three, the shooting took place in the absence of a veterinarian – again in violation of the law.

Also read: It was a sad day for us: Maharashtra forest officials react to tigress Avni’s death

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