Shooting of tigress Avni in Maharashtra sparks off row

Mumbai: Tigress Avni, believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 13 people in Maharashtra in the past two years, was shot dead in Yavatmal district of the state as part of an operation, police said Saturday. The tigress, T1, as she was known officially, was killed on Friday night, they said. “Avni was shot dead by sharp-shooter Asgar Ali, son of famous sharp-shooter Nawab Shafat Ali, at compartment no 149 of Borati forest under the jurisdiction of the Ralegaon police station,” a police official said. “Avni, who was known in Pandharkawda forest area, had killed 13 people over the last two years in the region,” he said.

In September this year, the Supreme Court had said Avni could be shot at sight, which prompted a flurry of online petitions seeking pardon for the tigress. For more than three months, Forest Department officials were planning to catch her with the help of latest technology. Trained sniffer dogs, trap cameras, drones and a hang-glider, expert trackers, sharp-shooters and around 200 ground personnel were roped in for the task, he said.

The Forest Department on Friday carried out the operation in Borati with the help of sharp-shooter Asgar Ali, he said. “Urine of another tigress and American perfume was spread in some part of the compartment, following which Avni came by sniffing it,” the official said. “The forest officials initially tried to nab her alive.

However, due to dense forest and darkness, they were unable to do so and finally a bullet was fired in which the tigress fell on the spot,” he said. “After she became motionless, forest officials went closer to her and later rushed her to a hospital in Nagpur, where she was declared dead,” the official said. The post-mortem was in progress, he said.

In October, an elephant that was part of a group hunting a man-eating tigress in Maharashtra ran astray overnight and trampled a woman to death.  Activists, Sena slam killing of tigress: The shooting of the tigress drew flak from activists and Shiv Sena, the ruling BJP ally in Maharashtra. Shiv Sena’s Yuva Sena chief Aditya Thackeray attacked the government for shooting the tigress, terming it as “poaching and trophy hunting.”

Avni, identified as T1, was considered responsible for the killing of at least 13 humans, though all deaths could not be linked to her after tests, according to experts. A fertile and healthy tigress, she was protecting her two 10-month-old cubs in the vicinity of the Tippeshwar Tiger Sanctuary for several weeks till she was shot down by a marksman, Nawab Asghar Ali Khan.

In a strong statement, Thackeray Jr. questioning the operation asked Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar if the tigress was shot from a ‘machaan.’ “If the expert hunter could get a perfect shot to kill a moving animal, then why did he choose not to tranquilise her? The tigress could have been easily tranquilised and relocated. Today, it is Avni, tomorrow it will be her cubs and other tigers.”

PETA India coordinator Meet Ashar termed Avni’s killing as “illegally satisfying a hunter’s lust for blood.” and said killing of the tigress should be treated as a wildlife crime and termed it a “dark day” for the nation. Activists pointed out that it would mean near-certain death for her two dependent young ones. “She may not have died instantly but slowly, through pain and blood loss, and likely in front of her now orphaned and vulnerable cubs,” said Meet Ashar, Lead Emergency Response Coordinator, PETA India.

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