World News

Hunter Who Killed Man-Eating Tiger in India Broke Laws, Officials Say

Posted December 6, 2018 12:57 p.m. EST

NEW DELHI — The hunter who killed a man-eating tiger that stalked central India broke several laws, Indian officials said Thursday, injecting new drama into an already contentious case and raising the possibility that the hunter could be prosecuted.

The hunter, Asghar Ali Khan, who comes from a wealthy family renowned for tiger hunting, was inexperienced and did not have to kill the tiger last month, according to a report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, a government agency.

The tiger had killed more than a dozen villagers and had left residents of a bushy patch of Maharashtra state in terror while Indian authorities debated for months about what to do. Wildlife activists urged them to leave the tiger alone or to tranquilize it and move it a zoo; villagers insisted that the tiger be killed.

Authorities eventually decided to stage a complex, military-style hunt to capture the tiger — whom authorities called T-1 — or, if that was not possible, to kill it. Khan, the son of a legendary hunter, Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, was part of that operation.

The younger Khan claimed that he never wanted to kill the tiger, but that the animal had lunged at his open jeep after it was hit by a tranquilizer dart late on the night of Nov. 2. He said he had fired in self-defense, but many wildlife activists do not believe him and have called for a government investigation.

The 5-year-old female tiger who had two cubs was beloved by many in India.

“The fact is Asghar Ali Khan is a totally inexperienced person and provided a false statement,” the conservation authority’s report said. “The firing in self-defense is doubtful.”

The report also said that the team had used an anesthetic in the tranquilizer dart that was 56 hours old, reducing its potency.

The report has not yet been officially released, but it circulated widely this week, and a senior official at the authority confirmed its findings Thursday.

Khan, reached by phone, disputed the report and said: “I can assure you that we have not violated any law. The tigress was dangerously close to us. She had killed three human beings in that area. We followed all the procedures, norms and laws.”

The tiger was believed to have mauled at least 13 villagers, mostly older men or women working in cotton fields or grazing cattle.

Authorities said the animal had typically attacked from behind and grabbed the neck and shoulder of the victim with her teeth and claws. In several cases, she ate the flesh of her victims.

“The self-defense theory is rubbish; it was a coldblooded murder,” said Dr. Jerryl Banait, a physician and animal welfare activist, who unsuccessfully tried to block authorities from killing the animal.

Banait said he would push for criminal charges to be filed against Khan. Punishment for crimes committed under India’s wildlife act can carry up to seven years in prison.

In India, clashes between tigers and people are increasing because the tiger population has grown sharply in the past dozen years to an estimated 2,500 tigers. Nearly one-third of them roam outside protected reserves in areas inhabited by people.

Wildlife experts say they believe that this conflict will become more intense in years to come.