Villagers crushed a tigress to death with a tractor in a game reserve in north India in the second controversial killing of one of the endangered species since Friday.
Officials at the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve warned against the “serious offence”, which villagers said was carried out in defence after the tigress mauled a villager to death.
The killing reignited a nationwide row over the ‘murdering’ of India’s national animal after another tigress was shot dead by hunters last week following a killing spree of its own.
Ministers traded blows with local officials over the weekend as environmentalists called for control and more humane methods of dealing with dangerous tigers after the initial killing that followed a high-profile hunt.
Sunday’s killing took place in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve 300 miles east of New Delhi. Villagers said they had slain the tigress in retaliation for mauling a 50-year old local farmer from Pilibhit district in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
Identified as Devanand, the victim later died of his injuries in the local hospital late Sunday, officials said.
“While we were busy rushing the injured man to hospital, the villagers had tracked down and surrounded the tigress and crushed it to death under their tractor” forest officer Mahavir Kaujlagi told the Hindustan Times.
He said the tigress’s carcass had been recovered and an autopsy would be conducted on it under the National Tiger Conservation Authority guidelines.
“The killing of a tiger inside a protected area is a serious offence” Dudhwa Reserve head Ramesh Pandey said, adding that a case would be registered under the Wildlife Protection Act and ‘appropriate action’ initiated.
Locals, however, claim that the tigress had attacked and injured another local around 10 days ago and they were ‘alert’ and looking out for her.
Animal rights activists said that though ‘reactive attacks’ on tigers by villagers living in and around the Dudhwa Reserve were not uncommon, large scale destruction of the animals’ habitat was largely responsible for the recent increase in such incidents.
Meanwhile, a senior Indian cabinet minister has accused her colleague of sanctioning the ‘ghastly murder’ of the other tigress in the Pandharkawada jungle in central India, who was shot dead by hunters on Friday after killing at least 13 people since mid-2016.
“This (killing the tigress) is patently illegal’ said Maneka Gandhi, federal Women and Child Development Minister and staunch animal rights activist.
“I am definitely going to take up this case of utter lack of sympathy for animals as a test case; legally, criminally as well as politically” she tweeted over the weekend.
Gandhi accused the provincial forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, who belongs to her Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, of disregarding appeals to abandon the hunt for the tigress, officially designated T1 but popularly known as Avni.
In response Ms Gandhi’s allegations Devendra Fadnavis, chief minister of Maharashtra state where T1 was shot dead has ordered an inquiry into the tigress’s killing.
Officials said the tigress had evaded capture at least four times and was responsible for attacking and killing inhabitants living on the edge of the forest alongside cows, goats and horses.
Wildlife officials said for months they had planned on capturing the tigress, but it had attacked its trackers even after being hit by tranquiliser darts.
The tigress was eventually shot by Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, one of India’s best known big game hunters following a Supreme Court order in September which ruled that the animal could be killed failing tranquilisation.
Forest officials, however, acknowledged that no veterinarian was present during the shooting as decreed by the court.
The Indian chapter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed that T1s killing was little more than ‘satisfying a hunters blood lust’.
According to the 2014 censure India’s campaign to boost its tiger population had been successful with their numbers increasing from around 1,500 to over 2,200.
But animal rights activists said India’s burgeoning population of around 1.30 billion had infringed upon the animals territory, thereby increasing the conflict between man and beast.
According to official statistics one person had been killed per day in conflict with a tiger or an elephant between 2014-17.
The tiger is India’s national animal and it is categorised as endangered under the Wildlife Protection Act.