As die-hard tiger conservation campaigners prepared to mark the first anniversary on November 2 of the killing of the tigress T1, a.k.a. Avni, who had been declared a ‘man-eater’, the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA’s) technical committee had a consequential meeting on October 30.
On its agenda among various issues were two that will have far-reaching effects. The first was a break from the British Raj terminology of ‘man-eaters’. Henceforth, any tiger found in conflict with humans will simply be called a ‘dangerous’ tiger’.
Second, the committee recommended an end to the shenanigans of trigger-happy private hunters posing as conservationists and who have sometimes been aided and abetted by pliable state forest and wildlife officials as they added more wild animal hunts to their résumé.
The NTCA decisions effectively close the curtain on the era of man-eaters, whether tigers, leopards or other big cats. There is a certain dread that that very term evokes. Even in cases where a big cat’s actions have resulted in the death of a human, such incidents don’t necessarily turn the cat in question into a ‘man-eater’.
What the NTCA has done is to lay down the new law by changing the existing text in its Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Previously, pages 38 and 39 of the SOP used to read:
After ‘declaring’ the man-eater, its elimination should be done by a Departmental personnel having the desired proficiency, while providing the fire are with an appropriate bore size (not below .375 magnum). In case, such expertise is not available with the Department, an expert may be coopted from the other State Governments or outside with due authorization…
This has been replaced with:
After ‘declaring’ the animal as dangerous to Human Life, its elimination should be done by a Departmental personnel having the desired proficiency, while providing the fire are with the appropriate bore size. In case, such expertise is not available with the Department, an expert may be coopted from other competent Government departments.
After years of wildlife conservation experts, including wildlife veterinarians who routinely tranquilise tigers and leopards in some of the country’s best-known tiger reserves, simmering at the prospect of the government engaging so-called outside experts, the NTCA’s virtual announcement barring such individuals from any capture or kill exercises in the country is a very welcome development. It should hopefully end this cottage industry that has over the years accrued the patronage of forest and wildlife protection officials as well as politicians of all hues.
But this is not all. The NTCA needs to go one step further, and ask every state forest department to investigate every single permission given to private individuals or groups posing as legitimate NGOs involved in wildlife conservation and who/which has been licensed to purchase and own a tranquilising gun. This single piece of equipment has empowered private hunters to pose as conservationists. So if the state will no longer enlist the assistance of such individuals and groups, the state should also extend the restrictions the NTCA has developed to them – and therefore to other wildlife-human conflict situations.
What happened in November 2018, in the case of Avni, is still very fresh in everyone’s mind. Now, the NTCA has shown – at least on paper, though its letter dated November 11 – with the amended SOP guidelines sent to the forest departments of all states that it can bare its canines when it chooses to. Then again, it remains to be seen if there is any bite: the words on paper will have to be turned into appropriate action on the field.
Balu Pulipaka is a senior journalist and has been involved in tiger conservation efforts for the past thirty years.