Wayanad's cattle-killing tiger caught after 26-day hunt

Cheeral Tiger | Photo: Manorama Online
The captured Cheeral tiger in Wayanad. Photo: Arun Varghese/Manorama

Wayanad: Wayanad's Cheeral village and the Forest Department heaved a sigh of relief Friday morning when they heard the tiger killing their cows for the past month has been caught.

"Phew! Suprabhaatam," is how a protesting resident laughingly responded when Onmanorama called in the morning.

The 10-year-old tiger took the bait, a live calf, kept in a trap cage near the house of Mangattu Asma, 100m from the Thottamoola Forest Station at Pazhoor. But before entering the trap, it had attacked another cow near Pazhoor, said Abdul Aziz, warden of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS). "Around 4 am we came to know the tiger was trapped," he said.

The officials chose Asma's house for the trap because the tiger killed Asma's cow in the shed in the early hours of October 25. After that, it also killed and partially ate a pregnant cow of Asma's brother Ibrahim, 50m from the Forest Station.

Since its first attack on September 25, the tiger identified as W-43 has killed or maimed 14 cows and calves. Fifteen, if the bait is counted. Forest officials said the number of attacks increased because it was not able to eat its kills.

The captured tiger in Cheeral, Wayanad. Photo: Special arrangement

They have taken the tiger to the Hospice and Palliative Care Unit for big cats at Pachadi in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. The hospice, which can accommodate only four big cats, now has three tigers caught for lifting domestic animals.

Abdul Aziz said W-43 has no injuries on it. "But it has lost its left canine tooth," he said.

Aziz and other top forest officials were on the receiving end of people's anger for the past month.

They had left its prints in Cherumadu, Pazhoor, Mundakolly, East Cheeral, Nambiarkunnu, Cheeral, Kallinkara, and Thazhathoor of Nenmeni grama panchayat. On October 24 (Monday), a special grama sabha of these seven wards passed a six-point resolution, which included the demand to shoot and kill the tiger.

But in the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday, the tiger attacked three cows near the Forest Station

Livid residents staged a protest in front of the Forest Station in the night itself. They said the tiger was attacking at night and the officials conducted perfunctory searches during the day. Though the tiger first attacked and killed a cow on September 25, the officials started an attempt to identify the tiger only on October 2, after it attacked three cows. "Even then, they refused to use the trap cage and wasted two opportnuties when the tiger returned to my house to eat its kill for two successive days," said Shanoj Daniel. Since October 2, the residents were living on the edge as the tiger went on a spree killing cows and calves.

The next day, the department released Rs 1 lakh each to the farmers whose cows were attacked by the tiger and Rs 60,000 each to those who lost calves. The all-party protest committee hailed it as a partial victory. But they met chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday and presented their resolution, which included financial support to fortify their cowsheds.

After the meeting, the Forest officials brought in its entire force from Parambikkulam and more trap cages from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Cheeral Tiger | Photo: Manorama Online
The captured Cheeral tiger in Wayanad. Photo: Arun Varghese/Manorama

Forest officials said residents have to adapt to living on the fringes of the forest just like tigers move freely in and out of human habitation.

The tigers prefer to hunt in the wild but their success rate is low. They get a kill after around 15 attempts. "So if they get used to preying on cows in the shed, it can become dangerous. So farmers should cover up their cowsheds. It should be mandatory. Farmers should also insure their cows," said a top forest official.

But residents point out that the government should do something about the explosion of the tiger population in Wayanad. According to Sulthan Bathery MLA I C Balakrishnan, the tiger population in Wayanad increased to 154 in 2021 from 42 in 2011. "And that is a conservative estimate," said a top forest official.

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