Mysuru: Villages of Hundipura and Chowdahalli and surrounding villages including Moorkalgudda on the fringes of Bandipur Tiger Reserve have been cordoned off and declared out-of-bounds for villagers, cattle-grazers, safari tourists and the public following a massive operation to capture the elusive tiger which is said to have killed two men in the span of one month.
The latest killing was of 50-year-old Shivalingappa who was mauled by the feline at Chowdahalli coming under Kundkere range of the Tiger Reserve. A few days back, farmer Shivamadaiah was killed in the same place and his half-eaten body was found amidst thick foliage.
Following the killings, foresters, led by senior officers including Conservators and Assistant Conservators have intensified the combing operations. They are using six elephants, including the experienced Dasara elephant Abhimanyu, to trap the tiger.
This morning, a tiger was sighted at Chowdahalli but its identity has not been established. Soon after the sighting, forest officers contacted the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) in Bengaluru for directions. The PCCF directed them to give preference to tranquillise the big cat. Officers told Star of Mysore that the tiger escaped from Chowdahalli. Later, villagers informed officials that the feline was hiding in a banana plantation. The team rushed there only to find the tiger missing. The elephant team is led by mighty Abhimanyu and it includes elephants Rohit, Ganesh, Gopalaswamy, Gajendra and Jayaprakash. Each elephant has four to five forest staffers holding binoculars and tranquilliser guns.
Forest officials have over 600 camera traps in the entire range that is the territory of five tigers. Bandipur Project Tiger Reserve director T. Balachandra said they have installed additional camera traps at points where they suspect the tiger might be sighted.
It will be a tough task to identify the tiger which killed the men. Even if a tiger is captured, it will take at least three weeks to know whether the particular big cat was responsible for the death. Based on DNA samples and the tiger’s unique stripes, the Bandipur authorities are taking step-by-step measures as per the protocol set by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
This morning, officials sighted fresh pugmarks near Huliyamma Temple and have extended the combing operations to the surrounding areas. First the task is to identify the tiger and then trap or tranquillise the big cat.
The Department is also using a unique bait to attract the tiger by positioning “skeletal dolls” smeared with human blood. Officials argue that the scent of the blood will attract the tiger, thereby making it easier to tranquillise and capture it. Over 100 to 150 ml blood will be smeared over the dolls and placed in locations frequented by the feline.
Yesterday, a press release from a Forest Department official which spoke about “shooting down” a “man-killing” tiger in Bandipur National Park caused a huge uproar. The letter prompted the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Sanjai Mohan to declare that efforts would be made to capture the animal alive.
“We have not ordered any killing of the tiger. But there is a tiger problem there – since this is the second such incident of a man being killed by this tiger,” Mohan said. There was also a controversy when private hunter and professional sharp-shooters Shafat Ali Khan and his son landed inside the Bandipur forest, holding weapons. It may be recalled here that Shafat Ali and his son had killed tigress ‘Avni’ last year had met with bitter backlash.
Following this, environmentalists protested forcing the Department officials to ask Ali and son to leave the place. Later the Department had to clarify that Ali and his son were not invited by the Department and they had landed in Bandipur on their own.
The Department had to face criticism from experts, conservationists and activists after news and photographs of Khan and his son working with forest officials in Bandipur spread. The officials received many calls from higher authorities who urged officials to drive away Ali and his son.
Some green activists said that under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, cases must be booked against the father-son duo for entering the Tiger Reserve without permission and with weapons.