Nagpur, OCT 03 :
The operation to catch the man-eater tigress of Yavatmal and her two cubs ran into fresh trouble with one of the elephants employed for the operation freed himself from the base camp and ran amok killing a woman at Chahand village in Ralegao tahsil Wednesday early morning.
The elephant also injured a person at Pohana village in the neighbouring Hinganghat tahsil of Wardha district, where he was finally caught around 10.30 am. The elephant Gajraj, had been called for operation from Tadoba-Andhari tiger reserve and was one of the five elephants being used over the past ten days to locate the elusive tigers.
It is also learnt that the same elephant had allegedly created trouble in March after decamping in a similar fashion and injuring one person in the area. This has raised the question as to why the elephant was called for operation again.
“The elephant apparently freed himself and travelled about twenty kilometres. The woman, Archana Kudsange, 35, was killed by him when she was reportedly attending nature’s call. It’s a matter of investigation on how the elephant managed to decamp. But it is certainly a setback to the operation and we will have to re-strategise it all over again,” said Principal Chief Conservator of Forest(wildlife) A K Mishra.
Mishra denied knowledge of any previous incident involving Gajraj. “I don’t know about any such incident,” he said. A forest guard involved in the operation, however, said, “earlier, too, the same elephant had run away from base camp and had injured one person.”
Despite massive manhunt using five elephants, the three tigers have eluded over 200 strong force comprising forest and police personnel for more than a month after the operation to catch the tigress alive or dead was launched following Supreme Courts go ahead. The SC had dismissed activist’s plea to allow only capture and not shoot the tigress, who is believed to have killed five persons since November last year, three of them in the month of August.
After a week of joint operation by an expert team from Madhya Pradesh and the state forest department, Forest Minister Mungantiwar had roped in Hyderabad sharpshooter Shafath Ali Khan for the operation. Khan, however, was removed following the activist protest and Maneka Gandhi’s intervention. Mungantiwar had said that Maneka had assured to get the MP team back and catch the tigress in five days. Mungantiwar had also said that he would call back Khan if the operation didn’t succeed in five days. But it has been over ten days since then.
Khan, who had told The Indian Express that it was impossible to catch the tigress alive and there was no option but to kill her under the present circumstances, said: ” I haven’t got any call yet from the Minister but I have been asked to remain stand-by by the officials.”
The MP team has, meanwhile, returned back and the remaining elephants have been shifted from the Savarkheda base camp to another place to prevent been targeted by people. Gajraj has been sent back to Tadoba. “The situation is peaceful but we have deployed enough personnel, ” said Yavatmal Superintendent of Police M Rajkumar.
Chief Conservator of Forest P G Rahurkar assured the angry villagers that the elephants’ mahout will be suspended within seven days if found guilty in the inquiry. He also assured to provide daily wage employment to the deceased woman’s husband.
Activist Parag Dandge, who had organized the morcha against Shafath Ali’s inclusion, said, “You can’t blame the tigress for this incident. The operation had been going on very well from the past ten days. How did the elephant escape? responsibility must be fixed. We will again oppose if Khan is recalled. We have full faith in the ability of the MP team that has successfully caged fourteen tigers in six months.”