With wildlife veterinarians calling upon the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to revamp the prevailing guidelines/SOP to deal with conflict big cats (tigers and leopards), certain changes have been brought in the procedures to be followed by the tiger range states in India from November 11, 2019. This puts an end to hiring of hunters / sharp shooters for capture operations of big cats as also calling conflict tigers as ‘man-eaters’ and finally, leaving major decisions to skilled wildlife vets for the big cats’ survival in the wild.
Standard operating procedures to deal with emergencies in straying of big cats:
- A tiger cannot be called as a ‘man eater’, should be declared as ‘dangerous’ to human life.
- Elimination to be done by government department personnel, not by any hunter / sharp shooter from outside.
- Elimination using the fire arms with appropriate bore size (not below .375 magnum).
- If expertise not available with the department, expert to be co-opted from other competent government department.
- After darting, a time lapse of 10-15 minutes should be given prior to taking any further action on the darted animal.
- Since induction time varies depending on physiological status, all action should be left to the judgment of the vet.
- Skilled team should have vets who are proficient in animal anaesthesia.
- Dosage administered should be left to vet in the team as drugs of choice provided is not exhaustive and concentrations given are indicative only.
Standard operating procedures for dealing with tiger deaths:
Post mortem team will now comprise –
- Two vets in the team.
- Authorized representative of NTCA.
- Veterinary officer of the tiger reserve.
- Veterinary officer with experience of working in wildlife.
- NGO expert nominated by Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW).
- Tiger reserve Field director or officer of equivalent rank but not below DCF rank under whose jurisdiction the area falls.
For disposal of tiger / leopard carcass or body parts:
- Only the field director or a DCF rank officer to be present in case of any exigency.
Welcoming the changes, wildlife veterinarians say this was long overdue and has come as a result of rising incidents of human conflict with big cats and continuing botched up cases of tiger and leopard captures. With tigers / leopards spilling over from tiger reserves to human settlements in states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, rising conflict and people’s anger have been seen frequently in the recent times. So the SOP to deal with emergencies arising due to straying of tigers in human landscapes has been revised and now the post mortem will have two wildlife vets and henceforth the issue of proving man eater tiger does not exist, vets add.
According to the Society of Wildlife Veterinarians, the 2013 guidelines clearly need a change with the country witnessing tigress Avni’s killing by hired sharp-shooters, which drove the final nail in the coffin of conflict tigers. Many capture operations in the tiger range states had in fact resulted in death of big cats due to wrong darting procedures and over dosages administered by unskilled forest staff. In fact, during Avni’s case, wildlife vets had raised the question of darting by Nawab Shafath Ali Khan (Avni was darted on the face) and later it was killed in cold blood, over-ruling expert advice.
Society of Wildlife Veterinarians, Southern Region, Executive Committee Member and Secretary, Dr Prayag H S says, “Looking at ground realities, wildlife vets can take decisions rather than sticking to outdated guidelines. However, the present changes should be followed in letter and spirit, thereby, saving both wildlife and affected people. In the case of elimination of dangerous animals, now only government department shooters are empowered which will be put an end to self-invited shooters/ hunters who come in the guise of capturing tigers and later end up killing them.”
News coverage: Big cats in conflict with humans won’t be called man-eaters.