Nagpur, Jan. 12: A tigress that killed five women in less than a month in Maharashtra was put down this afternoon but the commando who pulled the trigger later cried in a poignant footnote to a mysterious conflict.
“It was such a majestic tigress,” Suresh Atram, a commando of the elite C-60 anti-Naxalite force, said over phone. “I feel like I’ve committed a sin,” added Atram, a tribal.
The forest officials were surprised that it was a full-grown tigress about four years old. Through the week-long hunt, the officials and independent experts had assumed the animal was a sub-adult that probably could not hunt from the way it was selectively killing human beings, all of them frail-looking women.
The experts will now have to try to find answers for the tigress’s weird behaviour.
Its victims were women from villages near the Navegaon reserve forest in Gondia district — one was killed in the protected area — where a tiger has not been spotted in years. The tigress was shot near Sonjhari Malda village, about 25km from the Navegaon forest and 150km from Nagpur.
“I am extremely sad that I had to kill a tiger as part of my duty,” said Atram, who has served for many years in the strife-torn Gadchiroli district but was handpicked for this assignment. He heads the C-60 unit in nearby Bhandara.
An ardent devotee of Sai Baba of Shirdi, Atram said he could not stop himself from crying after killing the animal. “We tried our best to tranquillise it but could not.”
The commando said he had to open fire when the beast came charging at them. “It had come so close that there was no option left,” Atram said.
On January 4, after the tigress had killed its fifth victim, orders were issued to shoot it if it could not be captured. Ten teams were then formed to track it down and anti-Naxalite commandos inducted.
“It dodged three to four tranquilliser darts,” wildlife conservationist Sawan Bahekar said over phone. Then the commandos fired three to four bullets, but it escaped unhurt.
A shot that the officials said Atram fired from an AK-47 rifle hours later finally brought the tigress down.
Villagers had spotted the tigress on Thursday after it killed a calf and dragged its carcass into the shrubs. This morning, its image was captured in a camera trap mounted near the kill.
The tigress returned to its kill around 9am, Bahekar said. After a four-hour effort, when the tigress charged at a machaan (platform), the commando pulled the trigger.
“She was 20 metres from us,” Bahekar said. The first shot hit the cat. Eight more rounds were fired by two commandos.
“Each one of us was in tears,” Bahekar said. It was not something they would be proud of.