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Friday, February 8, 2013

Did forest officials’ folly lead to Wayanad tiger attack?

By Amit Bhattacharya, TNN | Feb 8, 2013, 03.03 AM IST NEW DELHI: A tigress captured on Sunday amid high drama in Wayanad district of Kerala, after it had injured five persons, has been found to be the same animal that was trapped by forest officials outside Karnataka's Nagarahole National Park last November and released without being radio-collared that very day in the adjoining Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The tigress was identified by the Bangalore-based Centre for Wildlife Studies, which matched pictures of the animal taken during the two captures using a pattern-matching software. From its database of camera-trap images, CWS also identified the animal as NHT-289 — an original resident of Nagarahole forests. The incident again highlights the dangers of releasing a captured big cat back in the wild without scientifically examining its condition and radio-collaring it to ensure that the animal is quickly captured if it starts lifting cattle or attacking humans. Quite often, forest officials trap a tiger or leopard under political pressure after incidents of cattle-lifting in an area, and release it some distance away, said K Ullas Karanth, director of CWS. "It's like transferring a problem to someone else's backyard. In the past, two captured leopards returned to the wild have gone on to kill people," Karanth said. Last week, the National Tiger Conservation Authority released a standard operating procedure for state forest officials in dealing with tigers that stray into human settlements. It too says a tranquilized tiger should be radio collared before being released in the wild. According to media reports, Karnataka forest officials used a box trap to capture the tigress — now identified as NHT-289 —from Nalkeri village outside the western boundary of Nagarahole NP on November 23. This was after villagers protested against two instances of cattle killing in the area. Forest department vets reportedly estimated the animal's age at three-four years. It was released the same evening at Hidgalpanchi in Bandipur. As CWS's analysis later showed, the tiger was at least seven years old and was first photographed in 2007. CWS suspects that a tiger that was mobbed in Kattayad village near Sulthan Batheri town in Kerala's Wayanad district, and thereafter seriously mauled a person, was NHT-289. This location is 19km from the site where NHT-289 was released. According to media reports, last Saturday (February 2), a tigress "attacked" five persons in separate incidents as well as killed cattle near Vadachirakunnu Colony on the fringes of the Wayanad wildlife range. Around 8am the next day, the animal was seen in a coffee plantation. A people surrounded the tigress, it attacked a 14 year old girl in the crowd. It attacked four more persons before being darted and sent to the Thrissur zoo.

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