Nine-year-old Ustad has been branded a killer, tranquilized and moved from a national park to an enclosure in a zoo. The male tiger was suspected of mauling a forest guard and killing two other local men. Activists have protested the captivity, taking their plea to court and arguing the confinement breaks India’s wildlife laws. The court has, however, rejected their petition.
Chandramauleshwar Singh, a regular visitor to Ranthambore National Park, told BBC News that Ustad was moved without "any scientific probe or investigation into the circumstance of the attack." He accuses the national park of bowing to pressure from the tourism lobby, who fear tourists would be put off from visiting Ranthambore National Park if Ustad remained there. Singh argued to the court that caging Ustad is a breach of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.
The court dismissed Singh’s petition and told the BBC that the decision to move Ustad can “under no stretch of imagination be held to be hasty, arbitrary or unreasonable.” Times of India reports that the court questioned Singh’s expertise, saying: “The petitioner claims to be a wildlife enthusiast, but his knowledge on tigers is not well-known.”
Ustad's confinement has sparked debate, with just over four thousand people signing a petition on Change.org to prevent the tiger's relocation from a 99,000-acre national park to a much smaller zoo enclosure. Indian wildlife expert Valmik Thapar disagrees with Singh. He told the Hindustan Times newspaper: "In my 40 years of experience of the tigers of Ranthambore, T-24 [Ustad] is the most dangerous tiger I have ever encountered."
Of the world’s tigers, 70% live in India. As of 2014, tiger populations stood at 2,226, and is set to grow. As their habitat continues to shrink, and the human population increases, experts warn there might be more ‘encounters.’
The court says the decision to move Ustad is in his best interest, but Singh will appeal the judgement to the Supreme Court.