Top hunter called in to track down killer tiger

The Daily Telegraph - - World News - By Ben Farmer in Islamabad

IN­DIA’S most cel­e­brated hunter has been called in for a con­tro­ver­sial mis­sion to shoot a man-eat­ing tiger blamed for killing 13 peo­ple.

Nawab Shafath Ali Khan has be­gun his hunt af­ter In­dia’s high­est court dis­missed ob­jec­tions from conservation groups and au­tho­rised the killing of the four-year-old cat and its two cubs.

The hunter, scion of an aris­to­cratic fam­ily, has started comb­ing the jun­gles of Ma­ha­rash­tra af­ter the an­i­mal, known as T1, be­gan ter­ror­is­ing vil­lages.

Wildlife ac­tivists sought to block any court or­der al­low­ing its death, ar­gu­ing there was no de­fin­i­tive proof it was re­spon­si­ble for the deaths.

They also tried to block the in­volve­ment of Mr Khan, one of the top marks­men used by In­dian of­fi­cials con­cerned about man-eat­ing tigers, rogue ele­phants or wild boar.

Mr Khan is us­ing ele­phants to stalk the tiger as ve­hi­cles are too noisy. He has said he will only shoot to kill as a last re­sort, in­stead us­ing a tran­quil­liser gun if pos­si­ble. The hunt au­tho­ri­sa­tion calls for Mr Khan to cap­ture the tiger alive, but to kill it if nec­es­sary.

Ac­tivists fear Mr Khan, renowned for killing hun­dreds of an­i­mals, will only make a to­ken ef­fort to take the cat alive. He has said he is con­vinced the tiger is guilty and it is killing for sur­vival be­cause of a lack of other prey.

“It has two cubs aged 10 months which are also eat­ing hu­man flesh,” he told the Times of In­dia. “The killing of hu­mans is easy prey… so the ti­gress is killing hu­mans for sur­vival.”

The tiger is thought to have killed 13 peo­ple near Pandharkawada over

‘My job is hang­man. I am the man who is putting the noose on the con­vict and push­ing the but­ton’

the past two years, with three lives lost just last month.

Vic­tims have been found part-eaten, with limbs torn off and teeth marks on their re­mains.

In­dian of­fi­cials say DNA tests, cam­era traps and foot­prints all point to the killings hav­ing been car­ried out by a sin­gle tiger.

In­dia’s tigers are strictly pro­tected by conservation laws, but the coun­try’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and loss of habi­tat means the crea­tures are in­creas­ingly in com­pe­ti­tion with peo­ple. The suc­cess of pro­tec­tion laws has also seen their num­ber be­gin to grow again, years af­ter plum­met­ing for decades. In­dia is home to around 70 per cent of the world’s 4,000 tigers.

Mr Khan is the pri­vate hunter usu­ally called upon when peo­ple and In­dia’s abun­dant wildlife clash.

Born into a Hy­der­abad fam­ily de­scended from roy­alty, he grew up en­chanted by the hunt­ing tales of his grand­fa­ther, who was a renowned Raj-era ele­phant hunter.

He first held a gun when he was four and soon be­came an able tracker and ac­com­plished shot.

At the age of 19 he was rec­om­mended by a fam­ily friend when of­fi­cials needed some­one to shoot a rogue ele­phant which had tram­pled 12 peo­ple to death. His fame quickly grew and of­fi­cials from around In­dia be­gan call­ing for his help.

As well as tigers, leop­ards or ele­phants ter­ror­is­ing ru­ral vil­lages, he is also some­times called on to cull In­dia’s wild boar. In an in­ter­view last year he said it was the courts and of­fi­cials who de­cided the fate of the an­i­mals.

“My job is of a hang­man,” he said. “I am the man who is putting the noose on the con­vict and push­ing the but­ton of the gal­lows.”

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