An activist has moved the Delhi high court to save a Ranthambore tiger, better known as Ustad, from losing his freedom over what he says are unproven charges of being a man-killer.
The male tiger believed to have killed four humans was shifted on Saturday from Ranthambore National Park to Sajjangarh Biological Park in Udaipur in a highly secretive move, drawing a sharp rebuke from the country’s highest tiger conservation body for alleged violation of standard operating procedure.
The eight-year-old tiger, officially known as number T-24, will be kept in captivity at Sajjangarh, forest department sources said.
A PIL filed on Ustad's relocation by a wildlife enthusiast who visits Ranthambore every three months alleged the tiger had been wrongfully accused of being a man-eater without any evidence.
The decision to translocate Ustad was made “without scientific probe or investigation”, and in response to public pressure, it said.
Sources said the “hasty decision” to shift T-24 was taken under pressure from a lobby which has interests in the lucrative tourism business at the park, visited by more than 2.5 lakh people every year. The 392-square-km park, 170km from Jaipur, houses more than 55 tigers besides other exotic animals.
The tiger’s last human kill was on May 8 when it had mauled a forest guard, sources said, adding the lobby was apprehensive the big cat’s presence could lead to reduction in tourist footfall.
The PIL did not say Ustad was also accused of killing three other men: a 23-year-old man in 2010, and a 19-year-old boy and a forest official in March and October 2012, respectively.
“We neither received a preliminary report about the tiger’s behaviour nor any technical report recommending its shifting. The tiger shifting move is in violation of the SOP and not in the right spirit. We will study what course of action is to be taken in this case as there has been no precedent,” said Bishan Singh Bonal, member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
Deputy conservator of forest at Ranthambore, Sudarshan Sharma, said he was not aware whether any report was sent to the NTCA, while forest minister Raj Kumar Rinwa said he would look into alleged violation of SOP in the shifting process.
“This is the worst and most unfortunate incident that could happen in wildlife. Officials have tried to hide their lackadaisical attitude in monitoring tigers by simply shifting a healthy tiger,” said RN Mehrotra, former head of the forest department.
Former wildlife advisor Dr Raza Tehsin said the move to shift the tiger to an enclosure from an open habitat was not a right decision.
He said any animal would not attack an individual unless and until he/she was disturbed from a close distance.
At Sajjangarh, Ustad was moved in a cage packed with ice for the 530km journey. Ustad’s enclosure was previously occupied by a tiger called Monu who died of leptospirosis last month.
In a new home, Ustad refused to eat buffalo meat. Live bait is being considered by park authorities now.
Sources said Rajasthan minister for forest and wildlife Rajkumar Rinwa had claimed that he did not have any information on the decision to shift the tiger.
The minister had also claimed that he had constituted a committee to investigate the issue, sources said.
According to officials, the minister claimed that if the committee finds that the tiger was not responsible for the attacks, then it would be shifted back to the Ranthambore National Park.