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|
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.
|Front Page of NTCA SOP|
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.
|A Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) under captivity|
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.