‘Driver shot dart at tigress T-4’: National Tiger Conservation Authority
The Maharashtra forest department botched up Sunday’s rescue operation to save injured tigress T-4 at Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Yavatmal, allowing the divisional forest officer’s driver, who had no training, to throw the dart at the animal, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) said on Tuesday.
Spread across 148 sqkm, Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary is home to four adult tigers – one male and three female, nine sub-adult tigers, and seven cubs (all three to four months old). HT reported on Tuesday that the adult tigress died in Sunna, on the fringes of the sanctuary, after being tranquilised near a water body.
A team of six guides, a livestock development officer (LDO) – authorised veterinarian, and the driver tried to rescue the tigress using a net, considering her weak condition. “The tigress jolted towards a guide, injuring him. The guide’s condition is stable. The team then decided to tranquilise the tigress with the LDO preparing the scheduled drugs and the driver shooting the dart,” said an NTCA official in charge of monitoring tiger habitat in central India.
Pramod Panchbhai, divisional forest officer (DFO) of Tipeshwar, who headed the rescue operation said the darting was carried out by his driver, Suraj Mahakulkar, under the supervision of the LDO (authorised veterinarian) Dr Udarraj Nakade owing to paucity of time and deteriorating health of the animal.
“We are certain the dosage (dart) did not impact the animal’s health,” said Panchbhai. “While Mahakulkar has not been officially trained, he knows how to handle the dart gun. He has been a part of several rescue operations and learnt skills from senior vets. As it took me sometime to reach the spot from Nagpur, my RFO was present during the rescue.”
“Our field officer’s report states the forest department is falsely claiming that one senior forest officer was present during the rescue. Secondly, without official training the DFO’s driver cannot dart a schedule 1 species, as it puts the life of the animal in danger, irrespective of the circumstances,” said the official.
The animal’s post-mortem report released on Monday said the impact of the tranquilliser and an earlier injury around her neck owing to a nylon wire snare could have caused her death.
NTCA will ask the forest department and the state to submit a status report on the operation.
“Follow-up action will be taken based on the responses, as prima facie, the standard operating procedure seems to have been violated,” said Anup Nayak, additional director general, NTCA.
“We will look into the issues raised by NTCA. However, based on information shared with us from the spot, our staff followed the basic protocol. I will visit the sanctuary on Wednesday to check the sequence of events,” said Ravikiran Govekar, Pench field director and chief conservator of forest, in-charge of Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.
“It is shocking that the Veterinary Council of India continues to allow such illegal tranquilisation of wild tigers. Strict action needs to be taken against veterinarians who are handing over restricted drugs used during tranquilisation to unauthorised persons,” said Dr Sarita Subramaniam, veterinarian and petitioner in Avni’s case in Bombay high court.