Many of the villagers living on the fringes of Odisha’s Satkosia Tiger Reserve (STR) were against having a tiger in their neighbourhood. But they had no say in the matter when two big cats were transferred from Madhya Pradesh to STR. And when a woman was found dead inside the STR on September 13, they were quick to conclude that it was the newly transferred tiger that had killed her.
Large-scale protests and violence erupted, with locals torching Forest Department offices in the Hatibari and Tikarpara areas bordering the STR. Forest Department boats on the Mahanadi river were also set ablaze.
But the post-mortem report of the deceased, which was released earlier this week, has failed to establish that the death was caused by a tiger attack. It only said that the death had been caused by “asphyxia” and that one injury was “consistent with destruction by carnivorous animal”.
“The post mortem report is not conclusive. The woman could have been killed by a tiger or a bear,” Bijayshree Routray, Odisha’s Minister of Environment and Forest told The Hindu. Wildlife experts said that a tiger attack would have led to the human’s neck being broken, whereas in this instance, it was not. Also, much more muscle tear than what was noted in the post mortem report would have been observed.
The Minister, however, said that despite the inconclusive post mortem report, there were few options available with the State. “We can tranquillise the animal and move it into STR’s core area, or keep it in some enclosure. We could also take it to Nandankanan Zoological Park near Bhubaneshwar,” Mr. Routray said, ruling out the possibility of relocating the animal back to Madhya Pradesh. He also claimed that the protests were “politically motivated” as a section of the locals were opposed to bringing tigers into the Reserve right from the beginning.
Raghu Chundawat, a tiger expert and conservation biologist, said that the fact the person was killed by the tiger needs to come out clearly. “If the tiger has not killed her, then translocating it makes no make sense,” he said, adding that reintroduction into a habitat is a very important issue for conservation and knee jerk reactions should not come in the way of it.
The tigress alleged to have killed the woman had been brought from Bandhavgarh National Park on June 28, and released in the STR on July 6. The Odisha Forest Department has said that the final call on shifting the tigress will be taken by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which had helped in their initial translocation.