Who was Avni?
Avni was a tigress from Pandharkhawda in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra. She lived there with her two 9 month old cubs and her partner T2.
She had killed 13 human beings since 2016 as per Forest Department claims. So she was termed a “man-eater” and FD along with a large team of 200 people (including private hunter) went out there to kill the tigress.
All the deaths had occured in forest areas and most of the victims were graziers. The forest dept had no factual and concrete evidence (DNA sampling was done on 3 occasions only and T1’s DNA was found in only one ! ) regarding whether T1 has killed all 13 people.
Analysis of 12 kills would reveal that seven bodies were found next to cattle kills in forest land, which proved that they were all chance encounters rather than a man eater stalking its prey.
Still even if we assume for a second that Avni had killed all then also there were some obvious Qs that remained unanswered –
Is it a tiger’s fault if people venture into forests and get killed/mauled by the tiger ?
Why did the FD not warn the villagers? Why has land belonging to forest been encroached by villagers for grazing?
Or is it because the land needed to be cleared for big ticket Industrial investment that necessiates the tiger to be eliminated?
For sake of argument if we consider Avni to be a “problem” tiger, why is it that a private hunter was brought in again and again (even after he was removed for his conduct once ) without following the protocol or standard operating procedure laid down by NTCA (National Tiger Conseravtion Authority)?
After Bombay High Court and Supreme Court refused to issue stay order on the operation, a fresh plea had been filed in the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court but that too was disposed off.
The petitioners (Sarita Subramaniam madam , her NGO Earth Brigade Foundation and Dr Jerryl Banait) had challenged the FD’s order to tranquillise & kill ‘Avni’ (T-1), who lives free in her own forest at Pandharkawada. The plea had also sought removal of Hyderabad-based sharp shooter Shafaqaut Ali Khan, contending that he lacked the experience of tranquillizing wild animals.
The petitioners had also demanded to know the grounds based on which ‘Avni’ has
been declared as a “man-eater”.
In parallel, people had come out in large numbers (including celebrities) in support of
Avni. There is a campaign with hashtag #LetAvniLive on Facebook with live updates and
opinion on Avni. Across cities like Mumbai,Delhi,Pune,Hyderabad,Kolkata there have
been protests held by activists and animal lovers. This turned out to be the biggest
campaign ever to save a tiger and T1 or Avni is now the face of all the Tigers in
India who do not enjoy the protection of tiger reserves.
Some people may argue that conservation may suffer and local people can get agitated if
a problem tiger is not allowed to be eliminated . But fact is that there was little or no
evidence to classify Avni as a man-eater as highlighted above. Those fighting to save her
wanted govt and FD to follow the standard operating procedure in such situation . If on
filmsy grounds, tigers outside reserves are eliminated it is bound to set a bad precedance
and will hurt rather benefit conservation in the long run. We have already witnessed
what has been the fate of the Lalgarh tiger a few months ago . In a year where census is
being carried out, we believe this is a census of dead tigers rather than live ones!
Facebook Page dedicated to Avni-
The battle continued on the streets, social media and courtroom -for a moment let us step
aside and try and answer whether man is at all a natural prey of tigers or not?
Man Eating Theories and Instances
Corbett’s Views –
Tigers kill humans- Corbett’s hunting stories present many such examples from the early part of 20th century. He though put forward a theory in defence of the man-eaters- they are either injured (injured paw or legs or broken cannines) or old or weak tigers . 90% of the man-eaters killed fell under this category. According to him, human meat is not a tiger’s natural food. But why do they hunt and eat humans? “A man-eating tiger is a tiger that has been compelled, through stress of circumstances beyond its control, to adopt a diet alien to it. The stress of circumstances is, in nine cases out of ten, wounds, and in the tenth case old age,” he says in the book, Man-Eaters of Kumaon. There have been cases that Corbett has recorded where tigers ‘accidentally’ turned maneaters by chance encounters with humans, giving them the idea that humans can satisfy their hunger. Corbett also believed that not all tigers who kill can be termed man-eaters. Tigers with young cubs who are disturbed, a wounded tiger or a tiger on a fresh kill, can hurt or kill human beings. However, these cannot be classified as dangerous maneaters who hunt for human flesh.
Views of RBL and Other Theories
Then when we read Professor Ratanlal Brahmachari’s article on tigers we know about 20-22 cases where healthy tigers regularly made man its prey. So obvious question that continues to linger then -why do tigers kill men? Driven by hunger -that’s what J E Carrington Turner an IFS officer of British India posted in various parts of India believed. With habitats shrinking every passing day ,usual prey base (various deers, wild boars, buffaloes, gaurs ) diminishing every now and then, tigers do move continuously bringing them in close proximity to human beings. Possibly out of this struggle for existence , emerges some tigers who suddenly start killing humans for food !! There are places in India like Chandrapur, Pilhibit, or the Sunderbans where tiger attacks and kills people but isn’t it more because of the rising conflict sitatuons when human settlements start establishing its authority near the forests? Tigers do go near villages to lift cattle in most cases and not human beings and are poisoned or killed many times. (Bandhavgarh and Ranthambore present such individuals like Fateh)
As per one disclosure by environment ministry , 92 people were killed by tigers between April 2014 and May 2017 . Not all killings can be attributed to “man-eaters” -at Bandipur for instance few tigers were labelled as “man-eaters” few years back during separate instances after they repeatedly killed and dragged victims. One of them was killed during operation while other was captured. Tiger captured had injury on its paw and was hungry!! Last year at Tadoba , when Matkasur or Maya (no one was sure who did it) killed a forest guard (did not eat his body) he/she was not labelled a man-eater. They are still seen in tourist zones and hasn’t reportedly killed anyone. Even at Sunderbans which account for nearly 25% of these deaths, people who venture into forests for fishing, crab hunting or honey collecting are in turn taken away by a tiger at times. Some people attribute this to excessive salinity of the water that tiger drinks making them irritable but these remain largely inconclusive. Wildlife biologists like M. Moninul Khan (working on tigers and other wild animals of Bangladesh) too believes that there is absence of concrete evidence to prove the man-eating theory and it may be a behavioural character manifested in some tigers at Sunderbans. Now on an average, one kill is required for tiger every week so imagine the number of humans that would have been killed had they been the natural prey!! To put this in context, Avni had not killed anyone in the last 3 months-had she been the man-eater calculate the number of human beings she would have killed by now for herself and her cubs
We all have seen a tigress from Kaziranga jumping onto an elephant to attack – people say it was stressed being separated from her cubs. Similar reason could have been attributed to Avni also who was protecting her cubs . “Man-Eater” may not be the right word to describe a tigress protecting her cubs after all..what do you think?
How to Classify a Man-Eater
Please read below the write up by Dr. Prayag, who had been working on this case and spent 10 days as part of the capture operation. (Adapted from LetAvniLive Facebook page and published in Mid-Day newspaper)
Forensic Expert and Wildlife Veterinarian Dr Prayag H S, Senior PhD Research scholar, KVAFSU-Bengaluru said, “While the Maharashtra Forest Department claims that the Tigress T 1 is a man-eater there is no concerete and substantial evidence to prove that T 1 allegedly killed all the 13 people. The scene of crime investigation SoC was not done properly by the forest department and the police and so how can they arrive to conclusion that T1 is a man eater based on circumstantial evidence.”
Before labeling any animal as a man-eater, the authorities should have scientific approach, proof and evidence in their hand which includes in-hand reference sample of the tiger in question, however, according to the expert the same is not available with the department.
“As per man-eater none of the point from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) ,Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) guidelines laid down to declare as man-eater is not met, in all 13 cases there is no eyewitness who have seen the tigress killing the person except in one case where a person had seen the tiger dragging the body of a person and not specified it as T1 and remember there are many tigers there. For a tiger a dead human body is one source of food on which it can feed by chance encounter and chances are that the person might have died earlier and then tiger might have eaten portion of the flesh from the body which does not makes it a man eater.”
“Personally I would give a tiger the benefit of the doubt once, and once again, before classing it as a man-eater, and whenever possible I would subject the alleged victim to a post-mortem before letting the kill go down on the records as the kill of a tiger or a leopard,” he says in the man eater of Kumaoun.
The expert also said that if the tiger has eaten the flesh then human DNA will be found in its SCAT, but this again also does not make that particular tiger as man eater.” The Maharashtra Forest Department did not carry out the SCAT analysis in the area where human kills were allegedly made by the tiger. Even if the DNA analysis was carried out, the result will only prove tiger presence along with its sex male or female, but it will not zero down on one individual unless they do individual identification by microsatellite markers only we have its reference sample before hand and so arriving to the conclusion and terming the Tigress T 1 as man eater is wrong. Another shocking fact is that none of the postmortem report say that the human was killed by a tiger rather it mentions the word carnivore and so the postmortem should have also been conducted by panel of doctors in presence of a wildlife veterinarian who have better understand of wildlife attacks and nature how they kill.” The intention is obvious -isn’t?
Before we end this post saying that Avni was NOT a man-eater , we would like to leave you with an excerpt from “Tiger My Friend” by Ruskin Bond
“The men in the village have to shoot the tiger . . . But chottu knows if they do so there will never be tigers in the forest again. He knows the forest will no longer be the same without the tiger’s roar. So, what happens?”
AVNI HAS BEEN SHOT BY THE HUNTER ON 2nd November, 2018.