After a ‘capture or kill’ order was issued against a tiger in Bandipur for mauling a farmer to death, protesters descended on the headquarters of the Karnataka Forest Department in Bengaluru on Wednesday. The protest was further fueled by the news that men involved in the contentious 2018 killing of the tigress Avni in Maharashtra were spotted in the forest area.
Three men had allegedly entered the Bandipur forest region at the behest of the Forest Department — Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, his son Asghar Ali from Hyderabad and Susheel Kumar from Tamil Nadu. Out of these three, the father-son duo was involved in the death of Avni in November 2018.
The protestors demanded that the department revoke the kill order and the animal be captured humanely. They withdrew the protest after receiving assurances that their demands would be met.
While no top forest officials, including the Head of Department, could be reached for comment, Assistant Conservator of Forest Ravi Kumar denied that the Forest Department had called the men. He further noted that the controversial trio had been asked to leave Bandipur Tiger Reserve by the jurisdictional officers.
“We are not using any hunters. Only our department veterinarians will tranquilise the tiger. But so far since yesterday, we have not been able to spot the tiger. We do not know how these men ended up here,” ACF Ravi, who is part of the combing operations along with the field director, told TNM.
The death of 80-year-old farmer Shivalingappa who was killed by a tiger sparked anger among locals in Bandipur. Much of the ire was directed towards Forest Department. A forest official was also attacked by the angry villagers.
By Wednesday evening, top officials said more than 100 camera traps would be ready and combing operations would continue, with forest staff on elephants and jeeps.
Joseph Hoover, a senior conservationist and former member of the State Wildlife Board who is accompanying the officials, said, “These men have self-invited themselves and are creating trouble. They are not wanted anywhere in south India and their actions are well known.”
Arun Prasad, one of the coordinators of Wednesday’s protests, said, “How can these three hunters from outside the state come without the notice of the Forest Department? We know what happened to Avni, we won’t let this happen in Karnataka. They have to leave the area. We met the head of the Forest Department and he said that he has not called them.”
In November 2018, the tiger Avni was killed under controversial circumstances. While the tiger had killed 13 people in two years, animal rights activists claimed that Maharashtra Forest Department officials could have dealt with the matter more humanely.
Arun added, “How can an officer other than the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) issue such an order. He has now assured us that the tiger will not be harmed. But why is the Department trying to fool us?”
A senior forest department staffer confirmed that there was a breach of protocol with regards to issuing the note. “Under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, only PCCF (Wildlife) is authorised to issue such orders,” the officer said.