Maharashtra: Centre’s panel issues advisory for forest staff during Chandrapur tiger capture
National Tiger Conservation Authority recommended the use of only “human dummies with a bent posture” as bait and not humans while capturing the tiger and asked for a report at the earliest regarding the allegationsUpdated: Oct 22, 2020, 17:13 IST
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) authorities have issued an advisory to Maharashtra chief wildlife warden (CWLW) to ensure the forest department’s employees’ safety following allegations by activists that the staff was being used as bait to trap an elusive male tiger (RT1).
NTCA recommended the use of only “human dummies with a bent posture” as bait and not humans while capturing the tiger and asked for a report at the earliest regarding the allegations.
So far, the Maharashtra forest department authorities have failed to capture RT1, who is said to have killed eight people and injured three others since January 2019 at Rajura in the Central Chanda forest division in Chandrapur district.
The CWLW has renewed the capture order four times since February.
HT had reported on October 18 that forest staff members have been stationed inside two camouflaged cages that are located 40 metres away from the main trapping area with a calf as bait since October 11. The cages are located under a bridge at compartment 170 near the core Rajura forest area.
The state forest department authorities have categorically denied that human beings were being used as baits.
However, the method to capture the elusive RT1 drew flak after a letter issued by the Rajura range forest officer (RFO) stated that the forest staff would be deployed daily between October 11 and 18 from 8 pm and 6 am and “seated in bait cages”.
NTCA’s advisory letter, which was shared with the CWLW on October 19, stated that two wildlife welfare groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Earth Brigade Foundation and Prakriti Foundation had drawn the former’s attention citing news reports published from Nagpur regarding the alleged use of frontline forest staff as bait to capture RT1.
“It is requested to ascertain the veracity of the media articles and take the necessary corrective action, if required. An action taken report in the matter may be submitted to this authority (NTCA) at the earliest,” read NTCA’s letter.
SP Yadav, member secretary, NTCA said, “While we are yet to receive Maharashtra’s response on the allegations, we reiterate that all efforts should be made to trap the tiger as per our guidelines. We will independently verify the allegations and ascertain whether all norms have been followed during this operation.”
NR Praveen, chief conservator of forests (CCF), Chandrapur, said, “We have not received any advisory from the NTCA yet, but we maintain that there is no breach of the guidelines. Human beings have not and are not being used as bait.”
Forest officials, who are heading the operation to capture RT1, said they had made progress using the method. “After a gap of almost 16 days, RT1 made its way to the large trapping area under the bridge late at night on Tuesday, where we have kept a calf as bait. The tiger was just a few feet away from entering the makeshift cage, and our staff was ready in their respective cages located 40 m away to trap the animal. However, at the last minute, the elusive tiger decided to make a hasty retreat,” said Arvind Mundhe, deputy conservator of forest (Central Chanda).
“We are certain that the tiger will come to the area again. We are sticking to our plan of capturing the animal,” he added.
Wildlife activists said any operation to capture the tiger after sundown was against NTCA’s guidelines.
However, Mundhe maintained that the forest staff was unable to spot the animal during the day.
Activists alleged that the Maharashtra forest department did not have expert teams comprising wildlife biologists, local trackers, skilled, trained wildlife veterinarians, camp elephants and mahouts to capture wild tigers on the move.
“Worse, the total lack of coordination and mismanagement in the RT-1 capture operation. The low-ranking forest guards and temporary staff, who sit inside cages, at night, allegedly for their own safety with live baits, are hoping to capture the predator in its natural habitat. God forbid, if the tiger retaliates and there are any injuries to the staff, the department will promptly issue orders to kill it,” alleged PV Subramaniam from the Earth Brigade Foundation.
WHAT MAHA FOREST OFFICIALS SAY THEY ARE DOING?
Forest staff members have been stationed inside two camouflaged cages near a trapping area located under a bridge since October 11 to catch the elusive RT1.
A calf has been left as bait for RT1.
At compartment number 170 in the core Rajura forest area, the caged forest staff is perched on elevated structures covered by leaves on either sides of the main trapping area.
The small cages are situated 40 m away from the bridge. The staff is holding onto a rope pulling up the steel gate of the main cage, which is to be used for trapping the animal.
The plan is to pull the ropes the moment the tiger steps into the cage, shut the gate, and then quickly mobilise a team of veterinarians, who are stationed 200 m from the trapping site.
The veterinarians are expected to tranquilise the feline within 10 minutes after it is caught.
The department has roped in 25 Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) officers, 35 employees from the Central Chanda forest division and three veterinarians, each of whom will be assisted by seven staff members.