Tigress Avni, who was being hunted for allegedly killing 13 people in the Pandharkawada-Ralegaon forests of eastern Maharashtra, was shot dead by hunter ‘nawab’ Asghar Ali Khan under the orders of the forest department. Avni left behind two cubs.
ThePrint asks- Killing Avni: Trigger-happy solution or failure of India’s tiger conservation policy?
Maharashtra govt failed both animals and human beings
Doctor and wildlife conservationist
First, Avni wasn’t a man-eater. Let’s get that clear. All the killings that occurred in the region happened over a period of two years. Last time a killing happened, 200-300 people were walking in the jungle on foot for rescue operations. If she was really a man-eater, Avni would’ve attacked them, but she didn’t. Moreover, she had to feed two cubs as well. A habitual man-eater comes out of its natural habitat and kills at least 1 human per week, and feeds on their flesh, but Avni never came out of her jungle. There is always a possibility of a ‘chance encounter’ occurring, wherein human beings crouching down in the jungle give the impression of them being prey animals to a colourblind animal from behind. But, the minute the latter realises that it’s a human being and not a prey animal, they let them be.
Attributing all the killings to Avni isn’t fair. There are seven more tigers in the jungle. Moreover, we cannot term a tiger as a man-eater without conducting a proper SCAT analysis. No such investigation was conducted, and on the basis of indirect ‘proof’ and fabricated camera trap images, we came to the conclusion that she is a man-eater.
Killing is never a solution. We ought to tranquilise and relocate the animal in cases of conflicts. The man-animal conflict will never stop until we restrict our own entry into their habitat. In this particular incident, the government of Maharashtra is to be blamed directly. The forest minister must resign. The ministry isn’t just responsible for tourism, but its primary responsibility is conservation. If they were really concerned about the villagers as they claim, they wouldn’t have waited for 10 killings; they would’ve issued tranquillisation orders immediately. But they have failed both animals as well as humans.
Our current tiger conservation model has no place for local communities
CEO, Metastring Foundation
I am uncomfortable with the way in which the question has been asked. It is important to begin by acknowledging India’s successes in wildlife conservation. This success has been possible because of the efforts of multiple institutions and individuals, government agencies, the tolerance, acceptance and reverence that local communities have for wildlife and more broadly for nature, conservationists, non-government conservation institutions, media and several others.
In many ways, the challenge is really in learning how to manage the success of wildlife conservation, improving wildlife management, and recognising and addressing gaps. A lot of our wildlife is found outside protected areas, in areas which have a lot of human presence. Unfortunately, the current official conservation model, especially for tigers, has no place for local communities but seems to put in a lot of effort to accommodate tourism and at times, even large-scale development projects which result in degradation, fragmentation and loss of wildlife habitats. All of these will have a very negative impact in the long-term and cause irreversible damage to our conservation efforts.
Wildlife in India will flourish only with the continued support of the local communities. This needs to be recognised and local communities need to be integrated into official conservation efforts as equal and empowered partners. Currently, this is a major gap and a glaring failure. Conflict is in some ways inevitable, but most local communities have evolved ways to live with large and dangerous animals. The problems arise when our approach to conservation prioritises the life of animals over that of people. Animals cannot be confined to small protected areas, they will need to disperse between protected areas, which will be through areas with considerable human presence. Wildlife management needs to be much more empathetic and inclusive of local communities for it to be sustainable in the Indian context.
Calling a nawab to kill tigress Avni is a step back in colonial times
Scientist, Wildlife Conservation Society
There is no solution to such incidents. It is like road accidents, you just have to be prepared for it beforehand, which means proactive policies and measures have to be undertaken by the administration. Right now there are no proactive measures planned. Second, calling a nawab to kill tigress Avni is a step back in colonial times. We want to use knowledge and consultation for arriving at a better decision and not depend on nawabs.
It appears that the entire process was an entirely political decision that was imposed on the forest department and that weakens the administration and therefore, the situation.
It has been obvious from the beginning that the forest department has been doing everything under political pressure. Sadly, political bosses are never held accountable.
Obviously, if you go with a gun towards the tiger it is going to attack you. If the Nawab was partying in Hyderabad, the tiger would not be in a position to attack him in self defence. The NTCA guidelines were violated when the shooter posed with the dead tiger and got pictures clicked. It is categorically stated that dead tigers should not be displayed or posed with.
Avni’s murder shows ill-preparedness of forest dept to deal with man-animal conflicts
Principal correspondent, ThePrint
The state-sanctioned murder of tigress Avni had every semblance to a fake encounter – in violation of the law, the shooting, meant to be the last resort, was carried out after sunset in the quiet of the night; the bogey of shooting in ‘self-defence’ conjured up; and the mysterious claim that the animal charged at the man-hunting team despite being darted.
As if hiring a private hunter to kill the mother of two 10-month-old cubs was not bad enough, it was actually the hunter’s son Asghar, who was not authorised to kill, who ended up shooting Avni.
Among other things, what the murder of Avni shows is the ill-preparedness of the Indian forest department to deal with man-animal conflicts. Out of a staff over 150,000 forest guards, can even 500 of them not be professionally trained to tranquilise problem animals? Hiring Shafath Ali Khan – a man who prides himself over his skill to kill in cold-blood – is as absurd as the police outsourcing a high-risk anti-terror operation to private shooters.
Even as the country outrages over Avni’s murder and the miserable fate of her two cubs, another tiger, which allegedly mauled a man, was run over by a tractor in Uttar Pradesh by furious villagers Monday, who also beat the unarmed, defenceless animal with sticks. They reportedly beat up the forest guards before doing so.
What these incidents show is that all the stakeholders – animals, human beings and forest officers – are losing patience and quickly. Policy-makers are yet to take cognizance of the enormity of man-animal conflicts, which is only going to rise in the coming years.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @khanthefatima.