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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

51 days after T-1 was killed, Maharashtra forest department rescues her cub

Female cub sent to Pench reserve; male cub likely to be rescued by next week

mumbai Updated: Dec 23, 2018 00:23 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
T-1’s female cub after it was darted and rescued on Saturday.
T-1’s female cub after it was darted and rescued on Saturday.(MAHARASHTRA FOREST DEPARTMENT)

After 51 days of tracking the cubs of alleged maneater tigress T-1 or Avni, forest officials made headway on Saturday after they darted and rescued her female cub.

According to officers involved in the rescue operation, the cub, now almost a year old, was darted by a veterinarian from Madhya Pradesh, Dr Akhilesh Mishra. She was darted around 3pm in compartment 655 near Loni village in Pandharkawada forest in Ralegaon, Yavatmal. She was then shifted to Pench Tiger Reserve by Saturday evening.

The male cub is yet to be tranquillised and the rescue operation is likely to be completed by next week, said forest officers. “For three days, four elephants manned by their mahouts, eight vehicles, and foot patrolling by forest staff and labourers identified the exact area where the cubs were. We set up another live bait (calf) on Friday to safely tranquillise them,” said Sunil Limaye, additional principal chief conservator of forest, Nagpur, heading the operation.

On Saturday, as the cubs approached the bait, the male cub, slightly aggressive, sensed fear and escaped but the female moved steadily within the lantana vegetation, said Limaye. “The four elephants cordoned off the area and the female cub could not escape. She charged at us a few times but once we had a clear view of the animal, Dr Mishra shot the dart from a distance of 10 metres and within 10 minutes the animal succumbed,” he said, adding a preliminary medical examination was done. “She was declared fit and transported in a trap cage to Pench.”

The forest department had been searching for the cubs since November 2, when T-1, an alleged man-eater, was shot and killed. The cubs had to be rescued as they are too young to fend for themselves in the wild, and may fall prey to infighting as tigers are territorial animals. There are worries that the cubs may also become maneaters like T-1, and the department plans to rehabilitate them in captivity.

For 20 days, the rescue teams allowed the two cubs to feel safe in the 80-hectare forest patch by providing them with over 20 live baits. “Since they realised food was readily available in this area, they did not look elsewhere. During this time, we fenced off this zone with 10-foot-high barbed wires so that they would not leave this territory,” said Limaye. Limaye was assisted by Dr Parag Nikam from Wildlife Institute of India (WII), scientist Bilal Habib, deputy conservator of forests (DCF) KM Abharna, state veterinarians Dr Chetan Patond, Dr Ankush Dubey and Dr V Kadu.

The Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), a conservation group that had deployed more than 10 staff members for the past two months and also during rescue, said the exercise was done in a professional manner. “This is a one-of-its-kind example of a successful rescue operation of mammoth proportion. Something like this has never been tried in any tiger range country,” said Dr Anish Andheria, president, WCT.

Justice for tigress: Couple moves court

Members of city-based animal welfare group Earth Brigade Foundation, led by Mumbaiites Dr PV Subramaniam and Dr Sarita Subramaniam, who have been fighting for justice for T-1’s death, moved the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court.

The court admitted their petition on Saturday filed against independent hunters Asghar Ali Khan, his father Shafath, forest staff Mukhbir Sheikh and veterinarian Dr V Kadu of the forest department, along with various respondents from the state and Centre that investigated or issued permissions related to the case. On November 2, tigress T-1 was shot dead by a team of three forest staff members including Sheikh and Asghar Ali near the Borati-Warud road in Ralegaon taluka in Yavatmal.

The petition prayed for criminal prosecution against the private hunters , Sheikh and Kadu for violating the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972; Arms Act, 1959; Indian Veterinary Council Act, 1984 and Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. It also asked for the formation of a special team to reinvestigate the entire episode from June 2016. Since the father-son hunter duo refused to submit their weapons despite repeated summons, the petition has asked to explain themselves, and finally to get the state to immediately ensure that T-1’s cubs are rescued (the female cub was rescued on Saturday).

AK Misra, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), who issued orders for tranquillising or subsequent killing of T-1, said he had not received notices yet and would respond to allegations in court.

First Published: Dec 23, 2018 00:23 IST

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