The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday (February 10) slapped a contempt of court notice on senior forest department officials from Maharashtra for declaring a cash reward on Avni, a tigress who was shot dead in Yavatmal district in 2018.
The apex court also sought evidence supporting the claim that Avni was a man-eater – the very basis for shooting the wild cat.
Hearing a petition filed by Sangeeta Dogra, an animal rights activist, Chief Justice Sharad A Bobde said “…they flouted orders that they shall not reward anyone who kills [the tigress].”
Maharashtra’s principal secretary for forests, Vikas Kharge, and the chief wildlife warden, AK Mishra, have been asked to respond to the notice.
In September 2018, the SC had authorised the forest department to shoot Avni “at sight” if tranquilisers did not work. Avni (officially known as T1) is believed to have killed 15 people in forests around Yavatmal. It was eventually shot dead on November 2, 2018, in a massive exercise.
The SC had stated: “T1 must be tranquillised and shifted to a rescue centre, and if unsuccessful, it shall be eliminated by shooting to avoid any further loss…The chief conservator of forests, Yavatmal, is authorised to carry out the above order. He shall not declare any prize or any similar incentive for the responsible person.”
Petitioner Dogra has argued that Avni was not a man-eater. She submitted post-mortem and DNA reports to support her claims. However, the court was not convinced with her argument. “How does a post-mortem show if an animal is a man-eater or not?” asked Bobde. Dogra said that a man-eater would have nails and hair in the intestine for six months, but Avni’s stomach was empty.
“We want to see clear findings that human nails, hair, teeth or whatever, does not disappear for a period of six months and that no such thing was found in [T1’s] intestine. Show us… she was not a man-eater,” Bobde said, adding, “We will issue notice also. Because the reward part is clearly violated.”
It has been claimed that Avni was killed in self-defence after she charged at the hunting party. However, post-mortem reports found that Avni was killed in cold-blood. As per the necroscopy report, the bullet left Avni with a “circular punctured wound of 0.5 cm diameter on the left thoracic region”, which suggests that the bullet hit her near the shoulder before going on to pierce her ribs, rupture her lungs and heart. Avni, the report said, “died of excessive internal haemorrhage and cardio-respiratory failure”. Postmortem also found a tranquiliser dart that was placed after the killing.
Avni’s two cubs were later rescued.
The killing made national headlines. Several conservationists had earlier opposed the SC order permitting the wild cat to be shot. It is said that the region around Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, where Avni roamed, has witnessed intensive human activity. This encroachment has led to human-animal conflict and death of a few local people. Avni’s mother was also a victim of this conflict. She was electrocuted when Avni was a young cub.