The Royal Bengal tiger that was spotted intermittently in West Midnapore’s Lalgarh forests and sent a wave of terror among villagers for nearly one and half months, was hacked to death by a group of irate tribals on Friday morning. According to sources, the tribals complained that they were not being able to enter the forest to collect leaves and firewood for fear of being attacked by the tiger. Thus, having lost their livelihood, the people decided to get rid of the big cat themselves, nearly 15 days ago, after Forest Department officials failed to capture the tiger hiding inside a culvert in Bagghara forest.
As news spread, senior forest officials rushed to Bagghara forest to make an enquiry on the spot about the death of the tiger. The carcass of the tiger was sent for postmortem. “It is very unfortunate that the tiger was so brutally killed. I had tried to plead with the tribal people a fortnight ago to not kill the animal, but they surreptitiously entered the forest and killed it. We will enquire into the death of the tiger,” said Purabi Mahato, director, West Midnapore Forest Department.
Sources said that nearly 100 tribals entered the Bagghara forest on Friday morning in search of the tiger and within half-an-hour they stumbled upon the animal hiding behind a tree. They surrounded it and started pelting spears and arrows at it. The tiger tried to flee but a spear hit it in the neck. As soon as it fell to the ground, the men hacked it to death. One of the attackers, 40-year-old, Babul Hasda, was injured in the encounter.
“We earn an average of Rs 150 per day by collecting and selling kendu leaves, saal leaves and firewood from the forest. For the last one-and-half months we could not enter the forest for fear of the tiger and thus lost our livelihood. Besides, our normal life was disrupted because of the tiger. So we were determined to kill the tiger,” said a tribal youth.
“Initially we kept faith on the Forest Department. But when they failed to capture the tiger we lost all hope. We decided to kill the tiger ourselves. It was easy for us to get more people since Shikar Utsab (Hunting Festival) is on in Jungal Mahal and there are no restrictions on entering the forest with weapons,” said a leader of a tribal group from Chandara.
It is reported that the untrained West Midnapore forest officials and staff were largely banking on catching the tiger by laying traps. But no one was willing to enter the forest to tranquilize the tiger using tranquilizer gun. “Forest department officials of Sundarbans area have experience in trapping and tranquilizing tigers. But their counterparts in West Midnapore have no such experience. This was the first time that they have had to face such a situation,” said a forest officer on condition of anonymity. He claimed that the department officials at West Midnapore had prior information that the tribals were planning to kill the tiger during Sikar Utsav, but they could not stop them. According to him, Purabi Mahato, director, West Midnapore forest department, had made a last effort by pleading with the tribal leaders to not enter forest. But the desperate tribals who were feeling intimidated, refused to listen to her.