Follow standard operating procedure to deal with straying animals, forest officers told

Forest officers will henceforth have to follow a standard operating procedure (SOP) in dealing with animals straying to human-dominated landscapes.

The SOP was issued by National Tiger Conservation Authority on January 30, days after the Maharashtra forest department shot a tigress near Navegaon National Park in Gondia district of Vidarbha following the killing of five women in 21 days.

The SOP includes a number of measures to prevent a situation from snowballing into a crisis (box).

The responsibility to handle a crisis rests with the field director of a tiger reserve or the highest manager of any protected area (PA) close to where an incident has occurred. Overall responsibility will be of the chief wildlife warden (CWW).

The SOP calls for immediate constitution of a committee led by CWW having an NTCA nominee, a veterinarian, a local NGO representative, representative of the local panchayat and manager of the PA concerned. The committee will hande the crisis on a day-to-day basis.

The SOP calls for identifying the carnivore from trap camera photos. Cameras should also be set up near the kill to confirm identity. Human attack and cattle depredation data have to be collected.

Luring traps must be set immediately to cage the animal and the kill must be safeguarded to allow the predator to feed and to prevent carcass poisoning.

Pressure impression pads must be laid immediately to ascertain animal movement.

If successive trap bids fail, chemical immobilisation must be attempted, the SOP says, warning, "Under no circumstances, the animal should be eliminated by invoking Wildlife Protection Act if it is not habituated for causing human deaths."

An important guideline specifies if the tranquilised animal is young and healthy without injury or incapacitation, it should be radio-collared and released back into the wild with adequate pre-base away from territory of resident male tigers or human settlements. Otherwise, the animal may be shifted to a recognised zoo.

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