Jan 5, 2013, 02.56AM IST TNN[ Vijay Pinjarkar & Gopu Pimplapure ]
The 18-year-old girl, Bhagyashree Neware, was mauled near Bhivkhidi in Morgaon Arjuni tehsil in Gondia, at around 1.30pm. A concerned SWH Naqvi, state chief wildlife warden, who rushed to Navegaon in the evening, issued fresh orders around 5.30pm to shoot the problem tiger. However, villagers are refusing to let the forest officials act as per procedure, and want instant action.
“Earlier, I had issued orders to shoot a problem leopard, but now it seems the victims might have been killed by the same tiger. Normally, tigers do not attack humans except in self-defence, but the behaviour of this animal looks abnormal,” Naqvi said before leaving for the spot. He was accompanied by APCCF (wildlife) AK Saxena and CCF for Nagpur Circle SH Patil.
The tiger struck when Bhagyashree was returning from her farm along with her mother, sister and other village women. She was attacked when she went into the bushes along the roadside to answer nature’s call. The tiger in a small nullah pounced on her. She shouted for help and the others rushed forward, only to see the tiger dragging her body away. Farmers and labourers working in nearby fields gathered and soon the news spread, leading to scores of villagers crowding the spot.
According to one version, the tiger sat close to the body after it had killed the girl. The crowd was angry and wanted to remove the body. The forest staff were able to remove the body after great effort, but could neither tranquillize the problem animal nor replace the body with goat meat to avoid more attacks.
However, according to an eyewitness, villagers were agitated over the ‘lack of action’ by forest officials. A violent crowd of around 2,000 damaged a dozen vehicles of public representatives, revenue, forest and police department staff and also targeted a state transport bus.
After the tiger mauled the girl, the carnivore was in the forest till the evening but the staff did not have orders to shoot it. The scared staff had gathered at a loghut in Navegaon, fearing a public backlash, and was waiting for orders from Naqvi.
SV Ramarao, deputy conservator of forests (DyCF) for Gondia, said the crowd did not allow the tranquillizing team and sharp shooters to approach the tiger. “We had to take police help. Our men sighted the tiger but by the time the team reached the animal, it was already dark,” Ramarao said.
“A combing operation will continue even in the night. Still, priority will be to tranquillize the animal before shooting it. Both teams will zero in on the animal simultaneously,” he added.
The earlier fatalities in this area have been Chhaya Deshpande from Manegaon near Dighori on December 15, Muktabai Ganvir of Salebardi on December 24, Mirabai Bahekar from Gudri near Sangadi on December 29 and Vandana Meshram of Chikli on January 1.
The distance between fourth and the fifth victim, both killed by the tiger, is hardly 15km. On the basis of pugmarks, forest staff had earlier claimed that the first three women were killed by a leopard and last two by a tiger.
“Pugmarks of a young tiger are similar to a full-grown leopard and hence they concluded the problem animal was a leopard. We established it was a tiger only after the fourth woman was killed and the tiger was spotted,” Ramarao said.
Now, forest officials are assuming all victims must have been killed by the same tiger, since it also eluded six trap cages with bait laid near the spots. “A tiger rarely walks into a trap. Had it been a leopard, it would have been caged by now,” they said.
“It is indeed shocking and surprising that even 40 years after ‘Project Tiger‘ began the forest staff is unable to differentiate between a leopard and tiger. Where are the camera traps procured by every division? Why were experts not deployed after the first kill? There is no regular monitoring by field staff and hence such incidents take place,” said Chandrakant Deshmukh, who was earlier summoned to shoot the Talodi tiger in 2007 by ex-PCCF B Majumdar. The Talodi tiger had killed seven villagers.
Gondia district guardian minister Anil Deshmukh is also visiting the spot and will hand over compensation money to family of the deceased. On Saturday, wildlife biologist Vidya Atre from Pune is reaching Navegaon to help the forest officials.
END OF A TIGER
* Last tiger to be shot, when and why: On November 30, 2007, a full-grown tiger was shot down in Govindpur in Talodi range in Brahmapuri. It had turned into a man-eater and killed 7 villagers.
* What’s the plan for Navegaon tiger? Orders have been issued to tranquillize the animal, but if need is felt, to shoot it. Attempts to drive it away into deep forests seem to have failed. The animal is moving on the fringes of the park perhaps in search of easy prey.
* Who will shoot it? Three commandos from Bhandara police have been summoned, and three from the forest department have been equipped with SLRs. It is not easy to either tranquillize or shoot an animal in the wild. The animal will have to be lured in with a bait.
* Precautions by forest department and police: The biggest problem is of keeping away angry villagers, who want instant action. After the deaths of five women, it is risky to approach the animal. Combing operations have been launched and patrolling intensified.