Mumbai: A man-eating tiger that claimed more than a dozen victims in two years has been shot dead in India, sparking controversy over the legality of its killing.
One of India’s most high-profile tiger hunts in decades ended on Friday night when the mother of two 10-month old cubs — known to hunters as T1, but as ‘Avni’ to wildlife lovers — was shot dead in the jungles of Maharashtra state.
A team of more than 150 people had spent months searching for her, using a paraglider and dozens of infrared cameras, while sharpshooters had ridden on the backs of elephants.
However, disputes quickly erupted after the killing as media reports said the tiger was shot in Yavatmal forest with no attempt to tranquillise her.
India’s Supreme Court had issued a hunting order for T1 — blamed for 13 deaths since June 2016 — in September, ruling that she could be killed if tranquillisers failed. Several appeals were made against the death sentence.
The tiger was killed at night, when tranquillisers are not allowed to be used, according to the Times of India and other media outlets.
T1 is said to have been shot dead by Ashgar Ali Khan, son of famous Indian hunter Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, who was meant to be leading the hunt but was not present on Friday night.
Forestry officials and the hunter did not answer calls for details of the hunt.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, A.K. Mishra, told The Indian Express newspaper that a forest staffer had managed to dart the tiger with a tranquilliser at around 11pm.
“But she charged at the team, forcing Ashgar to shoot in self-defence,” he said. “The tigress lay dead in a single shot.”
Self-defence or ‘murder’?
However, Mishra’s account was contradicted by other reports, while many groups condemned the way the killing was conducted.
The Times of India quoted sources involved in the hunt as saying it looked as though a tranquilliser dart had been put into the tiger’s corpse after the killing. The sources said the dart had not been fired.
Forestry officials acknowledged to Indian media that no vet was present during the hunt, as required by the Supreme Court order.
Jerryl Banait, a vet and activist in Karnataka state who had launched appeals against the order, described the shooting as “cold-blooded murder”.
“Avni was killed illegally satisfying a hunter’s lust for blood,” said the Indian branch of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) group.
It said India’s Wildlife Protection Act and National Tiger Conservation Authority rules had been flouted, calling for the matter to be “investigated and treated as a wildlife crime”. The tiger’s body has been taken to a zoo in the city of Nagpur for a post-mortem.
Despite the disputed circumstances, villages around the town of Pandharkawda are relieved at the tiger’s death.
T1 claimed her first victim — a woman whose body was found in a cotton field — in June 2016. Since then, most of the dead were male herders.
India has launched a major campaign to boost tiger numbers. At the last tiger census in 2014, the number had risen to more than 2,200 from a low of less than 1,500.
But urban spread as the country’s population of 1.25 billion grows has increasingly eaten into wild animals’ territory.
Endangered elephants and tigers kill one person a day on average, according to government figures.