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Maharashtra tigress death: Cubs track Avni’s scent, pug marks at site of shooting

As a row rages over the killing of the alleged man-eater tigress T-1, or Avni, the forest department said it spotted pug marks of her two 10-month old cubs late on Monday, at the spot where Avni was shot.

mumbai Updated: Nov 07, 2018 00:44 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
A cub’s pug mark at the site of the shooting.

As a row rages over the killing of the alleged man-eater tigress T-1, or Avni, the forest department said it spotted pug marks of her two 10-month old cubs late on Monday, at the spot where Avni was shot.

Senior forest officers told HT the pug marks indicate the cubs are in good health.

The department will now trap the cubs.

Animal rights activists, who have been alleging that the department allegedly killed Avni without first tranquilising her, said the cubs may have landed up at the spot by tracking their mother ‘s scent to find her.

The activists pointed out that the cubs are still vulnerable, without their mother’s protection. Forest officers said the cubs, a male and a female, are close to the Borati village, on the Borati-Warud road in Yavatmal’s Ralegaon taluka. “Identifying pug marks has helped narrow down their location. We have now set up trap cages,” said Sunil Limaye, the additional principal chief conservator of forest, state forest department. “We have set up four trap cages — two near the village where Avni was shot, and two in open areas where the cubs can be lured,” Limaye said, adding the thick vegetation in the area was allowing the cubs to hide easily.

The forest department said it will track the cubs the same way it found Avni, with 200 field staff spread across different regions of the 160 sqkm forest area, and camera traps monitoring possible tiger habitats. “However, in this case, the cubs will only be tranquilised,” Limaye said.

There is no threat to the cubs at present, Limaye said. “The male tiger T-2, the cubs’ father, is within this forest area but dominates a much larger landscape further into the Pandharkawda forest, and therefore will not pose a threat to them. There are smaller animals such as hare in this area which the cubs can feed on. However, to ensure no untoward incident takes place, we are trying to remove them from the area as early as possible,” he said.

Apart from capturing the cubs, Limaye said the forest department will cordon off the forest area after 3pm. “We have told villagers to stay away from this zone and keep their cattle away. There should not be any human movement in the forest buffer zone after 3pm,” he said.

However, a petitioner who approached the Supreme Court and the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court alleged the biggest threat to the cubs was the forest department itself. “T-1 was a protective mother and hid her cubs from human interaction, which was the main reason for her attacks. She was not a man-eater,” said Dr. Jerryl A Banait. “These cubs now face the forest department on their own. They are distressed because they are hungry and cannot hunt properly. We should understand they are as old as three-or-four-year-old children. If they leave each other, they can become victims of territorial attacks as there are other tigers in this region. If these cubs die, it will be the responsibility of the department and direct violation of SC orders,” he said. Banait pointed out that to attract Avni, the forest department sprayed the collected urine of tigers and tigresses. “The technique will prove fatal to the cubs, as other tigers will be attracted to the area in search of a mate,” he said.

Post-mortem reports delayed by four days

Questioning the delay in releasing Avni’s autopsy reports, animal rights activist and petitioner in the Supreme Court and the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court, Banait suspected foul play in finalising the post-mortem reports. “There have been so many big cat deaths over the years in this country where autopsy reports have been released in less than a day but in this case, there is no clarity from the Gorewada Rescue Centre in Nagpur,” he said. Banait plans to move court over the tigress’ death but cannot do so until the post-mortem results are declared. The forest department maintains that the post-mortem report will be released between Wednesday and Thursday and dismissed all allegations claiming otherwise. The tigress was shot in self-defence and also to protect villagers nearby from any attacks before the effect of tranquilisation could take over. When the dart hit her, she chose to fight rather than run and in this process, the safest measure was to put her down,” said a senior officer from Maharashtra forest department, Nagpur.

First Published: Nov 07, 2018 00:44 IST