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Tuesday, February 5

No more ‘official’ hunting of straying tigers, NTCA comes out with standard protocol


The martyrdom of the Wayanad tiger and a similar incident of officials shooting a strayed tiger in Maharashtra, has urged the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to come out with a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to handle conflict situations in which a strayed carnivore like tiger of leopard are involved.

Image Courtesy: WWF
While clearly forbidding the shooting of strayed carnivores, the SOP addresses many critical issues like mob control, the need to distinguish a man eater from a straying carnivore and standard procedures for capturing and transferring the animal in detail.

To make sure the situation is handled properly, the SOP suggests constituting a committee with nominees of the Chief Wildlife Warden, NTCA along with a veterinarian, local NGO representative, local panchayat representative and field director to carry out the decision making process. The SOP also suggests that a wildlife expert should be involved in the ongoing monitoring operations in such conflict situations.

Distinguish man eaters from a mere cattle lifter, before shooting it
A straying carnivore should not be shot, if it is not a man-eater, directs the SOP.  “Under no circumstances, a tiger should be eliminated by invoking the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, if it is not habituated for causing human death.” it says. It also urges to stick to traps and chemical immobilization to capture the animal.

“Elimination of a tiger / leopard as a ‘man-eater’ should be the last option, after exhausting the option of capturing the animal live. The Chief Wildlife Warden of the State after the due diligence should record in writing the reasons for declaring the tiger / leopard as a ‘man-eater’” says the guideline.

Often, carnivores straying into human inhabited area are mistaken for a man eater, even without enough evidence. To avoid such cases, the SOP annexure directs officials to distinguish attacks from a habitual man-eater from incidents of accidental lethal encounters with a straying carnivore.
“As most of our forests outside protected areas are right burdened, the probability of chance encounters is very high.  Further, tigers often use agriculture / sugar cane field, ….. ...which may also cause lethal encounters with human beings.  Such animals should not be declared as ‘man-eaters’.  However, confirmed habituated tiger / leopard which ‘stalk’ human beings and feed on the dead body are likely to be ‘man-eaters’”, says the SOP annexure.

In the Wayanad incident, a cattle lifting tiger was shot down by officials, by invoking section 11 of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 which allows killing habitual man eating tigers. To curb such instances, the SOP annexure clearly directs that in no circumstances, a mere cattle lifting carnivore be declared a man eater, just because it has ventured into human inhabited places.  

The new guidelines also stress on confirming the identity of the animal as early as possible. The guidelines direct the authorities to compare camera trap pictures, pug mark information to identify the animal. Camera traps can be set up near the kills and pressure impression pads (PIPs) can be put up in the area to confirm the identity of the animal and to track down its pattern of movement, says the guidelines.

Use Section 144 for mob control
Uncontrollable mobs are often the biggest challenge in rescuing a straying animal in India. In the Wayanad incident, officials were forced to shoot the tiger due to the presence of an agitated mob. The same factor has killed many straying leopards in parts of India.

To avoid such instances, the new guidelines suggest wildlife officials to proactively seek the help of district law and order authorities right from the beginning of the conflict situation and to clamp down Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code which bans the grouping of more than five people in public places. “In all instances of wild carnivores like tiger  / leopard straying into a human dominated landscape, the district authorities need to ensure law and order by imposing section 144 of the Cr.Pc.”, says the guideline.

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Front Page of NTCA SOP
Usually, tigers keep their kill in hide outs to eat later, which often helps to track down the animal and even to capture them. But often this is interrupted in conflict areas. In Wayanad incident, outraged public snatched the carcass of the killed live stock to put up road block protests. This has caused the hungry animal to lift more cattle in the run. Interestingly, the NTCA guidelines also suggest guarding the kill in cattle lifting incidents, in such a way that it won’t distract or disturb the carnivore. The suggestion also aims to avoid revenge poisoning, which is a usual incident in human-animal conflict areas. In a recent incident, a tiger died when villagers poisoned the kill in Nagarhole Tiger Reserve.

Stop rumour mills
Rumour mills have played a major role in worsening the situation in Wayanad as in similar cases by causing unnecessary panic among the people. To check such instances, the guideline directs the authorities to deploy an official spokesperson to regularly update the media regarding the progress of the rescue operation. 

“An authorized spokesperson of the Forest Department, should periodically update the media (if required) to prevent dissemination of distorted information relating to the operation / incidents,” says the guideline.  On a similar line, the guideline also discourages giving unnecessary publicity to blown up tiger population figures. “The minimum tiger numbers based on Individual tiger captures (in areas where camera trap monitoring is going on), should not be given undue publicity without due cross checking with the NTCA”, says the guideline.

Use traps and chemical immobilization
Once repeated instances of cattle lifting or attack on humans are confirmed, automatic closure traps should be set up in strategic areas after collecting enough information on the movement of the animal, suggests NTCA. If repeated attempts of trapping the animal fail, the guidelines suggest immobilizing it chemically using sedation darts with the help of experts and vets.

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A Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) under captivity
According to the guideline, recommended drugs can be injected to the animal by projecting 3 to 5 ml capacity lightweight plastic darts of 38 to 40 mm length and a needle with 1.5 mm to 2 mm diameter, using compressed gas or CO2 propelling device. The animal can be approached in vehicles or on trained elephants or can be darted from raised platforms. It is always preferable to target the hindquarters of the animal for darting. The guideline also suggests that the animal should bee kept in close observation with minimal disturbance during the induction phase (the period between injecting the drug and the animal turning immobile.)

Transferring the captured carnivore
If the captured tiger is healthy or young, with no serious incapacitation, it should be released to a suitable habitat with enough prey base after radio collaring it, suggest thee guideline. A captured tiger should not be released to the territory of another tiger. If the tiger is incapacitated, it should be sent to a recognized zoo, says the guidelines. It also says that a confirmed man-eating carnivore, once captured, should not be released back to the forest.

The Chief Wildlife Warder of the state will be responsible for making the decision of releasing the animal back to the wild or of transferring it to a zoo.


5 comments:

  1. Man it is worrying to see our national animal being endangered. If it isnt for the NTCA we wont have national animal in a decade. That doesnt look good for our country.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Narcist,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Though not in a decade, tigers in India and elsewhere are destined to doom in long term, may be in 50 years, with the poor conservation strategies and increasing human intervention.
      Well, as for the national animal, we will have to declare homo sapiens for teh title, at a time when we beat China with our population. Hopefully, there will be no more tigers in the country at that time.

      Delete
  2. I feel deeply sad whenever something is been written or shown about our endangered Bengal Tiger which is going towards unwanted direction.

    I hope this post helps some people become aware before doing any action against this beautiful cat .

    Thanks for sharing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Vishal,

      It is a great thing that you don't find this beautiful animal as a vermin or threat to human, as many others think. Once more people understand the ecological importance of these big cats, we hope things will change for good as far as the conservation of tigers in the country is concerned. However, if it does not happen very soon, the animal will cease to exist.

      Thanks for the comment and support.

      Delete
  3. This is a very welcome move. There is nothing sedatives cannot do and bullets can.

    ReplyDelete

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