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Massive hunt for man-eating tiger on Kerala-TN border

                                                                                                                                            The Pioneer, Kochi, 18th February, 2015

About 400 personnel, from Forest and Police departments and special task forces from Kerala and Tamil Nadu armed with guns, machetes and other implements, are scouring the forests in the Wayanad-Nilgiri area over the inter-state border from Monday for a man-eating tiger which had mauled two persons to death and injured another between February 9 and 14.

Apart from the Government personnel, groups of villagers are also searching for the big cat which has managed to remain elusive so far. Teams of villagers in areas like Pattavayal, Chettyalathur in Tamil Nadu and Noolpuzha in Kerala took turns in the past two nights to ensure protection for the people from the big cat by making camp fires outside the villages.

The Karnataka Forest Department is also cooperating with the efforts of the other two States in the hunt for the tiger against which shoot-to-kill orders had been issued both by Tamil Nadu and Kerala authorities. The Tamil Nadu authorities are also mulling the idea of capturing the cat using tranquilizer darts but they have not made this public fearing people’s protests.

The tiger had on February 9 killed a farmer, Bhaskaran (62), in Noolpuzha forest in Kerala’s Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and devoured almost the entire body. On February 14, the same tiger had mauled to death tea estate worker Mahalakshmi (34) at Pattavayal in the Gudalur forest in Tamil Nadu while she was picking tea leaves in the plantation.

On the same day, a youth, Rajeesh, suffered serious injuries in the attack by the same tiger when he had joined a team that ventured into the forest to capture it. The death of Mahalakshmi had triggered intense protests which slipped into violence in the Bidarkad and Pattavayal areas of Panthalloor taluk in Tamil Nadu on Saturday and Sunday.

As per the guarantee that the Nilgiri District authorities had given to the protestors, the tiger is to be shot dead before Friday. However, officials said they were not sure whether this deadline could be met. “It is a difficult task but we hope to meet the deadline. Still one cannot be sure,” said a Tamil Nadu Forest official.

The Nilgiri District administration has brought villages like Pattavayal, Bidarkad and Benna under Prohibitory orders fearing law and order problems and educational institutions were given holidays for three days since Monday. The traffic along the Gudalur-Sulthan Bathery inter-state highway had been restored on Monday after two days of blockade by the people.

The search for the tiger was continuing on the basis of the presumption that it was still in the Gudalur forest in Tamil Nadu. Officials said the tiger was sighted in Benna forest, some 15 km away from Bidarkad, the other day but the hunters did not shoot it as they were not sure whether it was the same cat they were searching for.

The Kerala Government has constituted a separate 80-member task force to deal with the tiger if it enters the State’s forest area from the Tamil Nadu side of the border. The team included tranquilizing-dart experts and shooters, authorities said. The team had also been given sufficient number of guns. The Wayanad forests are just a km away from the Gudalur forest.

According to the TN Forest Department, the tiger itself had been injured and therefore it was unlikely to move far away from the places where it had appeared. About 15 camera traps and five cages were installed in these areas.  At the same time, environmentalist groups have requested the Nilgiri administration not to allow the Forest officials to kill the big cat.