Fugitive Tiger counts its last days

Confused officials, angry villagers hound animal to kill humans

Chaubeypur (Faizabad):

He is the king….the most powerful predator to walk on earth—till the hand of man sealed his fate. He is now a fugitive-on the run, and condemned to death. He is the ‘man-eating’ tiger, who is reported to have killed four people—the last on Wednesday night—a man of about 50, Raghuraj. A casual labour, who has left behind a grieving widow, and six children. The anger in the village is palpable—this the second death in five days, and the locals are incensed by what they perceive as the apathy of the forest department in particular, and the government at large. The tiger has been around for nearly a month now—why haven’t they been able to get rid of him? Trap him, kill him—whatever—just free them of the terror which haunts the village, and prohibits them from going about their daily rituals—especially at dusk, and thereafter.
And so the death warrant is out—orders have been revoked (they were withdrawn under pressure from the centre and conservationists) to kill the tiger. Preparations have been made for the hunt. Four elephants are on duty to corner the cat. Shooters—two officers from the forest department experienced in killing man-eaters, are stationed on the machan, waiting for their target-to kill the errant royal Bengal tiger. He may be slayed tonight—or maybe a few days later, and India will lose yet another tiger, our national animal, whom we are committed to protect.
But, questions an angry villager, Devi Prasad, “is the life of the tiger more important that the life of man. Don’t our lives matter?”
Yes, they do.
Tragedy is—both could have been saved—this catastrophe could have been prevented had the situation been nipped in the bud, dealt with in a more responsible, effective way, rather than the chaotic, foolish manner that has been the order of the day.
One will not go, currently, into how the degraded habitat and declining prey base is causing such severe conflict, but concentrate on the fall of this particular tiger. He is young, maybe two, just about the time when males carve their own territories, and in this process must have strayed into sugarcane fields which surround his forest, Pilibhit. Sugarcane fields are akin to the tiger’s natural habitat, not unlike tall grasses in the forest, and the tiger could probably satiate his hunger by livestock, and wild boar which raided the fields. The first killing on November 12 was accidental—and not intentional. The victim, a young boy, would have been mistaken for another prey, and killed. Understandably, a huge hue and cry followed—and an angry public, egged on by the administration, used crackers, etc to chase the tiger. Sources in the state administration say, the only aim was to drive the tiger—and trouble-out of their district—any which way. Unofficially, the guns were out too. And the chase begin in earnest—with the tiger constantly on the run from an angry public—went further, and further away into no tiger’s land and human habitation—from Pilibhit to Lakhimpur to Shahjanpur to Sitapur.
His next stop, Barabanki proved to be fatal. He killed a teenager on December 21—though this remains in doubt as the victim had been missing since the past four days, and the tiger had killed a neelgai just the night before, making it unlikely that he would attack the dayafter. Quick to react, the DM (though this was quickly denied soon after) announced an award to shoot the tiger—which had all village braves join in the merry hunt. Along with a contingent of forest guards, trackers, officers—over 200 PACs were tracking the tiger with the aim to kill. Orders were issues to shoot the man-eater.
It is this continual persecution that was the crucial error. Harassed constantly by mobs was one way to ensure that the tiger would not be trapped. According to the Wildlife Institute of India report ‘trying to localise the tiger by putting baits, minimising disturbance to the animal and intensifying trapping is the best chance to catch the tiger’. Not by hounding him-which stresses the animal, and push him to kill in self-defence.
That way, we create man-eaters. Nor, frankly, has any sincere attempt been made to trap the tiger. The Uttar Pradesh forest department did not have proper or sufficient tranquilizing guns or cages. Experts opined that leg traps-like poachers do to trap-should be used, and then the animal tranquilised, but the administration did not bother. Internal politics delayed decisions—and “attempts to tranquilise were half-hearted, and only to appease the centre, and taken up by one or two officials.”
Nor did the public co-operate. “Chase the Tiger’ became the latest source of amusement. Controlling the crowds became a task impossible.
People broke counsel not to venture out far after dusk. Raghuraj went into the forest-at dusk-against the advice of villagers. He paid with his life.
As will the tiger.
But as we press the trigger, we may pause to think that he is not the only guilty one.

Appeared in The Pioneer on January 16.

The floowed sotry appeared in The Pioneer, January 18.

Prerna Singh Bindra
Devgaon (Faizabad):
Even as hunters sit on two strategically placed machans waiting for their quarry—the royal Bengal tiger, and irate villagers bay for its blood in Devgaon in Faizabad district, the questions we need to ask is: is this tiger being killed due to the folly of man? Was there any sincere effort at all to capture the tiger? And most significantly has it really killed the people it has been blamed for—particularly, the second incident, in Barabanki. The fatal point for the tiger was December 21, when it made its second ‘kill’: A 14-year-old boy in Barabanki, not too far from Lucknow. But was the tiger the culprit? The boy had been missing since four days, and the tiger had killed a neelgai just the night before—making it extremely unlikely that it would hunt again the next day. Sources in the police say that it was a case of suspected murder and that the teenager may have been killed by miscreants or due to some internal quarrel, but the “tiger was the fall guy”. And even though the local administration, including the forest officials, doubted that this was a tiger killing, no one bothered to investigate, which was the least the situation called for. That the tiger was not a man-eater is indicated from a story narrated by a forest officer, who said that “tiger had killed a goat, but even as the tiger watched, villagers appropriated the kill, and skinned the goat even as the tiger watched. This happened a day or two into the new year. This incident was narrated to us by the villagers, and we also the neatly skinned remains of the goat—a task that could not have been achieved by a tiger-since he cannot use a knife.” Importantly, this happened days after the tiger was supposed to have killed the boy in Barabanki.
This is just one among the many tragedies that has plagued the ‘man-eater of Barabanki. For over 60 days the UP forest department has been on the trail of this elusive tiger-to chase it, kill it, catch it, shoot it—as the case may be—and herein lies a sorry tale of how mismanagement, lack of conviction and expertise have led to this situation, when we are reduced to slaughtering our national animal by the official gun.
It has been over two months now since the tiger has turned fugitive, it is believed to have strayed from Debriya range in Pilibhit, a newly declared tiger reserve that adjoins Dudhwa. Like most reserves in India this is islanded, and surrounded by sugarcane fields, in which the tiger might have wandered—either to carve its territory since it is a young tiger, or to look for food-livestock, as natural prey has declined drastically with game hunting being a growing problem. This is the season when sugarcane is cut. The loss of cover left the tiger vulnerable, and he might have been chased by terrified villagers. The accidental killing of a young boy on November 10 understandably intensified villager anger. The situation would have not snowballed into the volatile affair it is now, had it been tackled wisely with few experienced experts either driving the tiger towards the forest, or tranquilising it. Instead, the tiger was besieged by angry villagers, forest officials, policemen and confused. Persecuted, and confused, he has walked over 550 km through Pilibhit-Kheri-Shahjahnpur-Sitapur-Barabanki-Faizabad. It has stuck to following the Gomti river downstream , and while these places only have very degraded , fragmented forests, there are enough patches of bushes and grasses to provide cover. But the real reason that he eluded the officials was that there was never any dedicated effort to catch it. The UP forest department simply does not have either the will, or expertise, and the equipment, which is shoddy, at best. The goal throughout has been to chase the tiger away from their district, “as there was pressure from the top that there would be trouble for the administration if the tiger created any problem in their area.”
Then came the Barabanki disaster on December 21,-and the hounding became rabid. The tiger was declared man-eater by the Chief Wildlife Warden, and shockingly an award announced by the local administration to shoot the tiger—denied later, but enough to rouse the local heroes to get their guns out and join the chase. Over 200 PAC personnel joined in the hunt. Under pressure from the centre, the order to kill was withdrawn—but there were only half-hearted efforts to tranquilise and capture the tiger—and gave it a fair chance at rehabilitation in the wild, most of them bungled.
In the first place, one needs to question the expertise and the field experience of the officers to tackle such a task—from the Chief Wildlife Warden downwards. “What mattered, even in crucial tasks like tranquilisation, was not skill but political influence,” says a source. And vital opportunities to tranquilize were missed. Like in Batauli just before the Barabanki incident—where the tiger was seen-and within shooting distance, but the hand which held the tranquilising gun shook missing the target—and the chance to capture the tiger. Nor did they welcome outside help, but only called for it under pressure from the centre. “The local experts were clearly upset about the presence of the Wildlife Institute of India, which has the scientific expertise for tranquilisation and could have been vital in this exercise,” adds the source. One of the wildlife biologists who visited remarked that the way things were being conducted, it would be lucky if they caught a rat, let alone a tiger.”
The worst mistake was the constant persecution of the tiger. For nearly 60 days—the tiger has constantly been hounded with hundreds of people. No less than contingent of a dozen cars follow the tiger on the run. Myriads officials discuss, the next move—with no clue or vision of what should be done. The attitude is -how does one get rid of this nuisance, which has disturbed my peace of mind, my sleep, my new year party? The will to save the tiger is sadly lacking, the sorrow at the useless death of this regal creature missing, save in a few officials. It is this attitude that has been the fall of the tiger.
Another crucial factor in this sorry mess has the support of the local people. For them, the tiger initially was a source of amusement—in fact the last victim , Raghu Raj, killed on Wednesday, “had gone in the jungle to see the tiger after dusk, even though he was stopped repeatedly by villagers,” according to Rajkumari , resident of Chaubeypur village.
Many a time with the presence of hundreds of villagers—thronging to witness the tamasha caused the tiger to run away, thereby again losing crucial chance to localise and chase the tiger. According to the WII experts, localising the tiger in one place, and minimal disturbance is a must, if the tiger is to be caught.
Confusion reigns supreme. A ‘top-level’ meeting held on Friday deigned that trapping efforts may continue, and three cages have been set up with help from Wildlife Trust of India, an NGO. But this seems to be at odds with the ground level situation. The DFO of Faizabad Range OP Singh said, “Orders to kill have been issued, and six hunters have been employed for the task.”
Harassed, persecuted, and hanged without a fair trial—perhaps the final shot will be the kindest for this ill-fated Panthera tigris.

One Response to “Fugitive Tiger counts its last days

  • THis is a story out of the ordinary.

    A young male tiger of two years and a half strayed from the Terai region of UP ie, the Dudhwa belt into the Faizabad area. It killed three human beings in the course of three months.

    THe UP State Forest and WIldlife Department declared it a “man eater” and directed that it be shot down .Upon this a wildlife enthusiast by the name of Kaushalendra SIngh who is associated with BIlly’s Ark, an NGO of that area, filed a Public Interest Litigation against this shooting order on the plea that every year hundreds of people die due to snakebites and the state forces do not go down combing the undercover to shoot down every such snake and that it is unfair to pass a similar order by the State Wildlife Deptt. against this tiger.

    Anyways, the tiger was granted some publicity and protection for a few days when it mauled another homo sapien. Now the WIldlife Deptt guys went ahead and shot at it.

    THis happened on the 8th of February 2009t has cleverly said that the report of its death is unconfirmed so as to avoid any brou haha at the hands of NGOs and Greens.Kaushalendra SIngh the PIL guy ,has reported that it has not been shot dead but has just been injured.

    I am painstakingly scourging the news daily on the fate of the orange stripes.I am angry that I am ignorant of its fate. WHy doesnt Kaushalendra who fought vehementally for it tell us what happened to it. It is not that we arent prepared to hear the worst.WHy should he be ashamed of taking defeat if the stupid State deptt did kill it.despite the stay orders of the Court?

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