A wild male tiger, which strayed into the Nandankanan Zoo in Bhubaneswar, has put the Orissa government in a spot as locals demand that it should be kept in the zoo while wildlife activists are opposed to it.
As wildlife activists sought the release of the big cat in the wild describing its captivity as illegal, people living near the zoo and adjoining areas launched a signature campaign against the release of the tiger, fearing it may cause harm.
"We fear that the tiger will again return and create problem for human beings," Balaram Lenka, a local resident, said.
The signature campaign has been launched by "Nandan Kanan Suraksha Parishad" headed by Bijoy Patra. An advocate, Patra filed a PIL in Orissa High Court against any move to release the tiger.
Lenka said though the six-year-old healthy Royal Bengal Tiger had not attacked any human being or cow in the area, pugmarks were detected for three years creating panic among people.
"Fortunately, the tiger has been trapped due to its own fault. Its release may create problem in future," the residents of Baranga and Dadha villages said.
However, wildlife activists oppose any move to keep the tiger in captivity as it would violate the law of the land.
"We wish to lodge a strong protest about attempts of the state government to retain the tiger in zoo to bolster its tiger gene pool for captive breeding," said Biswajit Mohanty, a member of the National Board for Wildlife.
In a letter to the Additional PCCF & Member Secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Mohanty said: "It is a blatant violation of wildlife laws as well as the SOP (standard operating procedure) issued by NTCA."
A perfectly healthy male tiger which has obviously strayed from Satkosia Tiger Reserve, the nearest known tiger habitat, is now doomed for life, he pointed out, adding that captivity of the tiger in zoo would amount to clear violation of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Mohanty said keeping the tiger in a cage would violate Section 38I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Quoting the act, he said "... No zoo shall acquire, sell or transfer any wild animal or captive animal specified in Schedule I and II except with the previous permission of the Authority."
This apart, capturing a wild tiger and retaining it illegally without any attempt to release it amounts to "hunting" which is prohibited under section 9 of the WPA, 1972, wildlife activists pointed out.
This offence is punishable under Section 51 (1) of the WPA, 1972 by a jail term of minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 7 years as it relates to a Schedule I species, they said.
To tackle such situations of straying of tigers into human dominated landscapes, NTCA had thoughtfully issued a Standard Operating Procedure recently which lays down protocols of how to handle such instances.
Meanwhile, the Odisha government has set up a technical committee. "We will go by the recommendation of the TC," said chief wildlife warden J D Sharma, adding NTCA guideline suggests that wild animals should be kept in wilderness with radio collars so that its movement can be tracked.
While there is a debate over the retention of the tiger in the zoo, experts feel that release of the wild cat requires careful consideration.
"We should not take any hasty decision on the tiger. We have to consider a lot of issues for safety of the tiger like what are the circumstances which brought him here. What are the threats the animal faced in natural habitation. Tiger is a highly territorial animal. It is not safe to release it in a new place," said Odisha's former wildlife warden Saroj Patnaik.
Patnaik says, "If this tiger is kept in zoo, it should be kept away from public display and with minimum human contact."