The National Tiger Conservation Authority has taken the lid off a pretty kettle of fish. Its final report reaffirms that Avni the tigress was killed with malice aforethought, indeed with calculated malevolence and almost a contrived lack of professionalism. Verily is Maharashtra’s forest department on the mat with the astonishing revelation that there was no “operational coordination” between veterinary professionals and the team that killed Avni on November 2. No less startling is the finding that the dart that was used to tranquillise Avni was fired without expert advice. Second, the gun with which the regal creature was shot was unauthorised. In a word, every rule in the book of the forest department was flouted, and this reflects no less acutely on chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ administration in the wider canvas. Arguably, it would be no exaggeration to aver that the operation to kill was, by accident or design, a state-sponsored forest crime. Small wonder that the report has underlined a fact that beggars belief ~ the veterinary drugs were handled by “unauthorised persons”.

Will a fundamental question get to be asked and answered by the administration in Mumbai ~ who authorised so unprofessional an operation? Will follow-through action be taken on the basis of the report? Or will it get docketed as most investigation reports routinely are? Answers to these queries may not be forthcoming anytime soon. Not that the forest department didn’t make an effort to track and camera-trap the tigress and conduct DNA analysis to identify the creature. It had even placed trap-cages to capture the tigress alive. Regretfully, however, there was no operational coordination among veterinary professionals and the team that eventually killed the tigress. Nay more, the dart that was fired was used 56 hours after being prepared by a veterinary expert who had asked the sharp-shooter to use it in his presence, the report has stated.

OPINION | Killing the keeper

“Neither the forester, Mukhbir Sheikh, nor Asghar Ali Khan, the sharp shooter, cared for the expert’s advice. Instead he fired the dart without adequate preparedness”. As it turned out, the shooter targeted the tigress from a moving vehicle in a “sitting position”. Avni was “stunned by the impact and died on the spot”. The tiger conservation authority’s report has effectively binned the provisional post mortem report that had sought to offer a feeble defence of an ugly truth. Few, if any, will buy the initial contention that the tigress was shot in selfdefence. The entire operation was a wildlife fiddle.

The gun that was used was licensed in the name of the shooter’s father, who was not part of the team that shot the tigress. Nor for that matter has the shooter produced an authorisation document to use the gun. Wildlife enthusiasts must keep their fingers crossed in the hope of action. So too must be the residents of the jungles.