Was Avni a man eater? Expert engaged by Maharashtra has doubts

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MUMBAI: A wildlife expert involved with earlier attempts to capture Avni has contested the Maharashtra government’s claim that the killed tigress was a man eater.

HS Prayag, a former senior veterinary officer of the Karnataka Forest Department, told ET that the move to label the tigress a man eater was taken without any scientific basis and in violation of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines.

Prayag said he got involved with the Maharashtra Forest Department’s efforts last year in apprehending the tigress after coming to know that controversial hunter Shafat Ali Khan was to be roped in.

“I have worked with Shafat and knew there would be no chance that the animal would be captured alive if he is involved. So I got involved with efforts to apprehend the animal. However when I questioned the officers on why the animal was labelled a man eater, I was just told that there were orders from above,” Prayag said.

The department has been claiming that DNA samples taken from three human kills showed the presence of a tigress, but Prayag pointed out that the lab report did not specify it was T1, as Avni was referred to.

“Even this is suspect as another lab has in its report showed the same sample to be that of a male tiger. So on what basis did they label her,” he asked.

Autopsy reports showed that Avni had not eaten for 5-6 days, which according to the wildlife expert, was not normal with maneaters.

“A lactating tigress would in fact kill humans in a much shorter time as she needs to feed her kids too,” he said referring to the fact that Avni was the mother of two 10-month old cubs.

Prayag also said T1 was without any injuries which normally makes tigers turn maneaters, nor was too old to hunt for normal prey.

His claims were however rejected by the Maharashtra government, with AK Mishra, Chief Conservator of Forests, saying he was a “hindrance” to their operations.

“Besides the DNA test there were other evidences too, that have been given to the court and the court has accepted them. I don’t need to answer his claims now,” Mishra said.

The tigress, who had reportedly killed 13 people, was shot dead in the Borati forest sparking angry reactions from animal lovers, including Union minister Maneka Gandhi who called it a “ghastly murder”.

Source: Economic Times