A 'shoot-at-sight order for a tigress

 
By Supriya Singh
Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

A 'shoot-at-sight order for a tigress

Travelling through Maharashtra on assignment, I heard hair-raising stories about a killer tigress in Talodhi village, barely 150 km from Nagpur. I couldn't resist the temptation of taking time off from documenting natural resources management practices and making a detour to track the tigress.

Talodhi is located near the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in eastern Maharashtra's Chandrapur district. The national park has the reputation of being well managed--its 625 sq km habitat houses 20-odd tigers. This made the stories of the tigress's forays into the villages all the more intriguing.

Feline trouble So there I was at the Brahmapuri divisional forest office in Chandrapur on a sunny November afternoon. M S Mesram, range forest officer told me he was in charge of the flying squad sent to tranquilize the tigress. When the team failed after repeated attempts, the principal chief conservator of forest issued shoot-at-sight orders on October 30.

Villagers in Talodhi were in a state of considerable agitation, not because of the order but because the tigress was still on the prowl. With discontent rising, the local mla threatened to go on hunger-strike if the shoot-at-sight order was not implemented. A posse of sharpshooters from the police was deployed in the area. Mesram was, however, urging saner counsel. He did not want the big cat killed. "The tigress is around four years old, fully grown and is healthy enough to hunt. It is not a man-eater. The animal hasn't touched any of the bodies," Mesram pointed out. But he admitted that it was proving hard to tranquilize the animal and it couldn't be allowed to roam freely either. Mesram wasn't finding a receptive audience given the history of conflict in Chandrapur. In 2001, for example, villagers poisoned three tigers to death after they had killed several domestic animals. I saw several local newspaper reports saying over 30 people had been killed in tiger attacks in the past 22 months. And, obviously, the problem was showing no signs of abating.

Is there a pattern to tiger attacks? It turned out the tigers were only chasing their prey--wild boars. Mesram said wild boars were moving closer to the villages during the harvest season to feed on the crops. In following their prey, the tigers were ending up on the fringes of the villages, confronting the people. Several people had spotted the tigress, thus drawn, devouring a wild boar near Sonapur village. When they tried to round her up, she charged at the crowd and vanished into the forest. "Even in our village, about 40 km from Talodhi, tigers were spotted several times during the harvest season," said Suryabhan Khobragade of Saigatha, a village which has won acclaim for protecting its forests. People in the nearby Nagbhed forest range also said they had spotted a tiger during this harvest season. Mesram said the attacks in Talodhi too happened on the fringes of the forest.

Shrinking space A little more prodding and the people in villages neighbouring Talodhi told me tree felling has disturbed much of the tiger habitat. "The timber mafia is strong and illegal logging happens with impunity," said Gosuji Kolte of Wasalamakta village in Nagbhed. A paper mill at Ballarpur, near the tiger reserve, also sources bamboo from this area, affecting the tiger habitat, Khobragade said. Felling under the forest working plan was initiated about two years ago and many said the tiger attacks had increased during the same period.

And what about the tigress? I didn't have the luck to get a glimpse--she was probably canny enough to stick to the wild boar trails.

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