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Royal Bengal tiger speared down by locals in Lalgarh 42 days after first sighting

Locals said the tiger injured two villagers at around 10 am on Friday when a group of around 70 tribal people entered the forest to hunt animals and birds as part of their ongoing hunting festival.

kolkata Updated: Apr 13, 2018 18:55 IST
Koushik Dutta
Koushik Dutta
Hindustan Times
Royal Bengal Tiger,Shikar Festival,Lalgarh
The carcass of the tiger was found on Friday inside a forest near Lalgarh in West Midnapore district.(HT Photo)

The carcass of the Royal Bengal tiger, that was first caught on camera inside the forests near the erstwhile Maoist belt of Bengal’s Lalgarh region, was found on Friday, 42 days after it was first spotted on March 2.

The carcass was found within a few km of the Madhupur forest where it was first sighted by cameras set up by the forest department. Locals said the tiger injured two villagers at around 10 am on Friday when a group of around 70 tribal people entered the forest to hunt animals and birds as part of their ongoing hunting festival. Before the tiger could escape, villagers attacked it with spears, hatchets and other weapons.

The injured villagers, Babul ad Badal Hansda, were taken to Midnapore medical college and hospital.

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“Our team has rushed to the spot. I have asked for a report and will explore whether there was any negligence,” said Bengal forest minister Benoy Krishna Burman. The carcass was sent for post mortem examination.

Divisional forest officer (DFO) of Midnapore division, Rabindranath Saha, earlier said the tiger was a full grown male.

In the past few weeks the tiger eluded multiple traps the forest officials laid for it. It also injured a few people and once escaped from a culvert where it was cornered by some villagers on March 30.

Read: As wildlife habitats shrink in India, animals are in a losing battle

Though local forest officials did not comment on the cause of death of the big cat, villagers pointed to wounds just above its right leg and claimed it was caused by a spear. There were several bleeding wounds, including one in the neck from which part of a spear was still jutting out when the carcass was found.

“It’s an unfortunate incident. There was a possibility of confrontation between the animal and the thousands of locals who live in the area and go inside the forests regularly. But it must be admitted that capturing the tiger was not an easy job,“ said Atanu Raha, the state’s former principal chief conservator of forests. “I don’t think the cat was killed by professional poachers. Local people taking part in the ongoing hunting festival killed it most likely,” he added.

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‘Shikar utsav’ (hunting festival) is an integral part of the tribal culture in the Jangalmahal region that covers the forest areas of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts and parts of adjoining Jharkhand state. During the festival, tribal youths enter forests with traditional weapons and hunt down birds and even small and medium-size game. The Bengal government has been trying to discourage the practice to save wildlife but hunting still takes place.

The tiger became a headache for the entire administration since thousands of villagers in the backward areas enter the forests in West Midnapore to collect firewood, kendu leaves and mahua flowers. While kendu leaves are used for making traditional plates on which food is served, Mahua is used to prepare a strong local liquor.

“The tiger killed a few cows in the villages. We were living in fear,” said Jangal Mahato, a resident of Melkheria village in the Kantapahari area in Lalgarh.

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On March 8, chief minister Mamata Banerjee suggested that drones be used to locate the elusive cat. But even that tactic proved futile.

A full-grown tiger roaming around the area triggered such panic that many roads used to remain deserted, especially after sundown. The administration even deployed police and forest officials during the class 10 and class 12 Bengal board exams last month.

The discovery of the big cat surprised many among forest officials, who pointed out the nearest tiger reserve was in Simlipal in Odisha, about 196 km away.

Experts ruled out the possibility of the animal straying from the Sundarbans since the mangrove forests in the delta are separated by a number of rivers, national highways and densely populated human habitations.

First Published: Apr 13, 2018 17:36 IST