To capture tiger, Maharashtra forest dept deploys staff members near main trap

The Maharashtra forest department has started an unorthodox method to trap an elusive male tiger RT1 — who is believed to have killed eight people since January 2019 — at Rajura (Central Chanda forest division) in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra.

Since October 11, forest staff members are stationed inside two camouflaged cages near a trapping area located under a bridge. A calf has been left as bait for the tiger.

At compartment number 170 in the core Rajura forest area, the caged forest staff is perched on elevated structures covered by leaves on either sides of the main trapping area.

The small cages are situated 40 metres away from the bridge. The employees are holding onto a rope pulling up the steel gate of the main cage that is to be used for trapping the tiger.

The plan is to pull the ropes the moment the tiger steps into the cage, shut the gate, and then mobilise the a team of veterinarians who will tranquilise the feline.

Clarification after controversy

However, the method drew flak after a letter issued by the Rajura range forest officer (RFO) stated that the forest staff would be deployed daily between October 11 and 18 between 8pm and 6am and “seated in bait cages”.

“The cages are being used for the staff’s own safety and not as bait. This strategy has been adopted, as it is difficult to get close to the tiger,” NR Praveen, chief conservator of forest (CCF), Chandrapur, said clarifying that humans aren’t being used a bait.

On Saturday, the Nagpur-based Forest Guard and Forester Association of Maharashtra responded to the Rajura RFO’s letter. It alleged that the guidelines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) were being violated, as any tiger capture operation was supposed to be performed during the day. “The timing should be changed and due care must be taken for the safety of the forest staff,” the association said.

It also pointed out that the department should consider its staff’s safety while expressing concern about long shifts that could harm their health condition.

Arvind Mundhe, deputy conservator of forest (Central Chanda), said, “There is confusion over the fact that the forest employees are being kept as bait in place of the calf. No human being is being kept as bait… The first phase of this experiment ends on Sunday. We will take a call, whether we need to extend it.”

At present, the forest department authorities are unable to spot the tiger during the day, said Mundhe.

The department has roped in 25 Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) officers, 35 employees from the Central Chanda forest division and three veterinarians, each of whom will be assisted by seven staff members to catch the elusive tiger.

Rajura forest area is spread across around 1,100 square (sq) kilometres. “We spotted the tiger after sunset on October 12 and 13 moving through its usual route. This is where the trap and cages have been put up,” said Mundhe.

Independent experts also told forest officials about the ambiguous content of the letter. “I spoke to CCF Chandrapur. The forest department employees are not being used as bait. The bait site is under the bridge, while other cages will have tiger monitoring teams, who will pull the rope and shut the steel gate. The employees will feel safe due to the camouflaged cages provided to them for protection,” said Kishor Rithe, founder, Satpuda Foundation and a member of the State Board of Wildlife (SBWL).

Department not considering shooting down tiger

A state forest official said there has been growing demand from local residents to shoot RT1 but the department has not considered the idea yet.

RT1 is believed to have killed eight people and injured three others since January 2019, although the figures aren’t confirmed. “All kills cannot be attributed to RT1. Of the eight deaths, the samples for five were sent for DNA analysis. The results have confirmed two cases due to a large male tiger. However, in other incidents, there has been no conclusive evidence,” said Mundhe.

HT had reported on October 3 that Maharashtra reported the loss of the highest number of human lives due to tigers over the past decade. So far, 33 people have been killed in the state as cases of human-animal conflict continue to rise.

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