Chennai-based People for Cattle in India filed a PIL against Chief Wildlife Warden Shekhar Kumar Niraj, who, on October 1, issued orders to hunt down the elusive tiger, T-23.

The image of T.23 in the wild
news Wildlife Tuesday, October 05, 2021 - 13:33

The Madras High Court, on Tuesday, October 5, ordered the Tamil Nadu Forest Department not to kill the elusive tiger, coded T-23, in the Gudalur forest area; instead, capture it alive. The mission to capture the tiger had been going on for over a week. However, the tiger, which reportedly killed four people and 12 cattle, remains elusive.

On Tuesday, a bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu heard a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a Chennai-based animal rights group, People for Cattle in India (PFCI), against the orders to "hunt down" T-23 at Gudalur. The PIL was filed against Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden Shekhar Kumar Niraj, who, on October 1, issued orders under section 11 (1) (a) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, to hunt the big cat.

Hearing the PIL, the bench ordered the forest department to not kill the tiger and noted that it may not be a man-eater. The court further ordered the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests to put fewer people on the ground in this operation as frequent human movement will cause disturbance and pose a threat to other wildlife. Further, Justice CJ Sanjib Banerjee said the tiger must be caught alive as there are already fewer tigers in India.

The PFCI, in its PIL, alleged that the order by Niraj was not in consonance with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines. The NTCA is a statutory body set up for the protection and conservation of tigers by the issuance of advisories and or guidelines to forest authorities in a timely manner. The PIL said that according to the NTCA guidelines, tigers would use agriculture or sugarcane fields to hunt their prey and that such visits might also cause lethal encounters with humans, and that "such animals should not be declared as dangerous to human life."

The NTCA also states that confirmed habituated tigers or leopards, which stalk human beings and feed on the body, are likely to be dangerous to human life but such declaration requires considerable examination based on field evidence, it said.

The petitioner alleged that there was no evidence in the case of the MDT23 tiger that it was stalking human beings habitually and avoiding natural prey. It alleged that the forest officials, due to their inability to catch the animal alive, have ordered to hunt it down.

The search and capture operation of the tiger in Gudalur, officially known as T-23, has been underway for more than a week. On October 1 the Chief  Conservator Shekar Kumar Niraj IFS ordered to hunt the animal after mounting pressure from villagers and several quarters. The order was given under Section 11 (1) (a) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, which gives the Chief Warden the authority to issue orders to kill or hunt any animal falling under Schedule 1 of the Act (including tigers), if it poses danger to human life.

Nearly 60 forest officials divided into five teams, five doctors, one drone, 25 camera traps (mobile camera), one net gun, one pepper gun, three sniffer dogs and seven tranquiliser guns are put in place to capture the elusive tiger in the thick forest cover between Masinagudi and Theppakadu in Tamil Nadu.

(With IANS inputs)