It was mob killing with official consent, and the victim was a hapless tiger.
The death of a big cat on the fringes of the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary on Sunday came against the backdrop of rising tiger numbers there, protests spurred by vested interests who would be hurt by plans of a tiger reserve, and the state government’s failure to take action over consistent warnings.
Ironically, compared to 129 incidents of attacks on cattle by animals in 2011 in the district, this year the figure is so far around 60. However, as pressure and public opinion were built both against a planned “tiger sanctuary” and the “growing” cattle attacks, the tiger at Wayanad paid with its life.
There is a case for managing the tiger population at the sanctuary, which stood at 67 adults and 11 cubs at the last count. While the Central government’s suggestion of a tiger reserve in the light of these numbers is yet to get a response from the state government, word recently spread in the district about a bid to convert Wayanad sanctuary into a tiger reserve.
When, against this backdrop, a cattle lifting was reported on November 11 — the latest such incident — an agitation followed in Wayanad, where farmers, estates and resort groups all have a stake.
Media soon chipped in, with every incident of cattle lifting being reported as breaking news, followed by street protests, attacks on forest offices and blockades of highways. Officials were forced to pay up to Rs 50,000 for an animal lost, compared to Rs 25,000 earlier. Among those who claimed damages was the owner of a buffalo that had been killed. Few raised the point that the owner had himself sent the buffalo into the sanctuary for grazing.
There was no let-up till the district administration finally gave the unusual assurance that the tiger would be finished off. In the past few days, among those in the task force searching for the animal was an uncontrolled mob.
In this scenario, chances of either a capture or tranquilisation — that could have saved the tiger — were unlikely. The mob wanted blood, and blood it got.
Shaju is a senior correspondent based in Thiruvananthapuram, firstname.lastname@example.org