Avni, the “man-eating” tigress, was “facing away” from the shooter when he shot at her, The Indian Express reported on Monday, citing the post-mortem witness report. This contradicts the Maharashtra forest department’s earlier claim that the animal was shot dead in self-defence as she charged at the shooter.
The report also said that the dart found in Avni’s left thigh did not show any impact of being “fired from a syringe projector [tranquillising gun]”. The department had claimed that its team had fired a tranquilliser dart to immobilise the animal. Forest department officials had been told to shoot the animal only if the tranquillisers failed, as per Supreme Court orders.
The “man-eating” tigress was killed on the night of November 2 in Yavatmal district during an operation by the state forest department. The six-year-old animal – the mother of two eleven-month-old cubs – had allegedly claimed at least 13 lives in Ralegaon forest since June 2016. Sharpshooter Asgar Ali, son of famous sharpshooter Nawab Shafat Ali, killed her.
The state’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) AK Misra had said a day after the shooting: “Forester Mukhbir Sheikh managed to shoot a tranquilliser dart at her. But she got furious and charged at the team, forcing [the shooter] Asgar [Ali] to shoot in self-defence from a distance of about 8-10 metres.”
The witness report has photographs to show that “the cannula of the dart had gone into the subcutaneous layer and had not penetrated into the underlying muscle”. News reports citing the autopsy had earlier said that doctors found the connective tissue underneath the skin intact, meaning that the tranquilliser did not enter the animal’s blood flow.
“There was no haemorrhage observed in the muscles at the darting site,” the witness report said. “Dart fired from a syringe projector [tranquillising rifle] always leaves a significant and obvious haematoma, which was not observed in this case.”
The witness report was submitted by wildlife biologist Milind Pariwakam, who was the representative of the Maharashtra forest department.
An unidentified forest official told The Indian Express: “Going by these findings of the autopsy, the tigress could not have been charging at the team if it was facing away from the shooter. And if the dart was not fired from a tranquillising gun, probably the carcass was dressed up to show an attempt at tranquillising before shooting the animal. It is possible that senior officers were misinformed by certain field staff who allowed private shooters to move on their own.”
Misra said he had yet to examine the report, and that any conclusion was premature at this stage as an inquiry set up by the department was going on.
The Maharashtra government had on Friday set up the committee to examine whether all norms and directives were followed when Avni was killed. This came after the preliminary autopsy report suggested that there were several holes in the forest officials’ and shooter’s stories.
While Union minister Maneka Gandhi has described the shooting as “patently illegal” and a “ghastly murder”, Maharashtra Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar has accused Gandhi of lacking information about the matter. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said his government will investigate if there were any lapses in the procedure to kill the tigress.
Cubs still alive
Avni’s two 11-month-old cubs have not been located yet though forest officials said they found pugmarks on Friday indicating that they were still alive, The Indian Express reported. “We have stepped up the effort to catch them by deploying about 150 trap cameras in the area where they have been found to be moving,” AK Mishra told the English newspaper. “We hope that there is no imminent danger to their life as there are precedents of even smaller cubs having survived alone in the wild.”