#VinitasPune: On Avni, Man-Animal Conflict And Why It Concerns Us

Man and Wild
Image used for representation only.

Man’s greed to encroach forest land that is the natural habitats of wild animals has led to them turning man-eaters for want of their jungle prey…

How many Avnis are we going to kill? It’s not only tigers, but leopards and elephants that have become threats to people.

Pune and surrounding villages have already living in fear with the leopard hunts just as much as the wild elephants pose a constant threat at the Maharashtra-Karnataka border.

It is time we realised that the man-animal conflict is real and already at our doorstep. 

It is a catch 22 crisis in all respects. Thirteen villagers were allegedly killed in the last two years by Avni, the tigress who roamed around the Pandharkawada- Ralegaon forests of Yavatmal district in eastern Maharashtra.

The solution scripted by the forest department was to engage experts and capture her by tranquilizer shots or by shooting her dead.

Over 100 people were designated and equipped with drones to track her own in her natural habitat!  Meanwhile, over one lakh online petitions were signed to save her from such a brutal end.

She was shot dead last week sparking off a controversy over the manner in which she was killed The mandatory conditions of first rescuing them and then capturing her alive (with tranquilliser shots) were disregarded, allege petitioners and animal activists from all over the world.

She leaves behind two 10 month old cubs who have not been traced yet. On the other hand, people of nearby villages are celebrating her death!

To kill or not to kill man-eaters is the question here…

However, at this rate, forest officials would have to go on a never-ending rampage, killing such animals, as man-animal conflicts have reached serious proportions. Is that the answer?

For Pune and its nearby districts ensconced in the Sahyadri range, it is the so-called man-eater leopards that have been the cause of concern for homo sapiens. Though the Sahyadris are known to be the home of striped tigers, it is also home for leopards which are known to be highly adaptable to non-forest areas.

Once they stir out of their habitat, they are uncomfortable in their new surroundings and often turn into animal and child predators and man-eaters.

Dams, highways and other infrastructure have encroached into their habitat and reduced their prey numbers. This is turn leads them to starvation and they leave their habitat in search of food and water. First, they kill domesticated birds and animals of villagers and then also attack people, particularly children.

A couple of decades ago, in a dramatic occurrence, a leopard climbed up a tree at the St Crispin’s Home on Karve Road and in broad daylight! Hundreds gathered to witness this spectacle where this gorgeous creature had actually walked into hugely populated urban territory.

As luck would have it, he was safely captured and apparently strayed out of a private property where he was kept illegally in violation of forest laws. In July this year, a leopard entered a residential neighbourhood near Dehu Road and was spotted by the paw marks and blood trail it left after attacking a pet dog. Eversince, the residents are on tenterhooks and are clamouring for its captivity.

In fact, Dehu Road area has seen frequent leopard visits and spotted at various army and civil residential zones. 

In rural Maharashtra, it is the sugarcane fields that are the favourite haunts of leopards who stray out of their territory in search of water. The thicket of the sugarcane fields, particularly during scorching summer, inspires them to stay on and at times, with their cubs. Villagers have houses close to theirs farm and thus become vulnerable to leopard assaults.

On the flip side, Maharashtra has a unique leopard rehabilitation centre in Manikdoh           ( Junnar District) which came into being in the 90’s after a series of man-eater leopard attacks. The Forest department has pioneered a scientific model to keep the captured cats safe and then release them to their original habitat. Spacious cages and small natural surrounding enclosures dot the sprawling centre where these leopards are nurtured with love and affection by former and current forest officials.

Today, the centre has over 30 such captive leopards. Each one has been fondly given names too. They are returned to their natural homes once they are rehabilitated and micro-tagged to keep track of them. 

It is important to mention here that it is not illegal to kill a man-eater animal if it proves to be a menace. As per the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, amended in 2002, ‘no wild animal shall be ordered to be killed unless the Chief Wildlife Warden is convinced that such animal cannot be captured, tranquilised or translocated”’’

In the case of Avni however, it was perhaps killing in a hurry…

The Down-to-Earth magazine has observed that, ‘An animal, which can be killed by a gun, can also be captured by using a tranquilliser gun and rehabilitated back to its natural habitat or kept in a zoo (if it continues to pose a man-eating threat), which will solve the problem without killing it. With these options available, hunting/killing of tiger, leopard and elephants must be practiced as a last resort.’’

Unfortunately, we as common citizens cannot solve this problem, but can surely spread awareness and be sensitive to these majestic animals.

My heart cringed when I saw the visuals of Avni, glistening with health, beauty and power, lying lifeless and I’m sure it moved hundreds and thousands of us too.

The time has come for forest officials to develop a rock solid strategy where animals and human can co-exist in peace without any loss of human lives. Yes, this is tough and also needs political might to achieve.


#All views expressed in this column are the authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same

Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

Passion for the written word that comes alive, not only to tell a story, but to speak out loud about all that's good, bad and the ugly in society...

That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.

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Vinita Deshmukh