It has been 12 days since the carcass of a tiger, presumably an eight-year-old male, was found in the Bandipur National Park. On e of its paws and 15 claws were found missing. But until today, the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) has no clue of the perpetrators of the heinous crime.
Though the KFD isn't sure of the cause of death, it is content to buy the veterinarians' opinion that it had died of natural cause. A tiger, as wildlife biologists suggest, attains prime at five and is dominant until 8, unless it is injured in a territorial fight or perishesfrom wounds sustained in a tussle over a fertile tigress.
If this tiger had been involved in a fracas with another male, the wounds/ scars should have been apparent. But according to sources, it bore no injury, other than the ‘devastation’ wreaked on its carcass by poachers, who evidently seem to be actively trading in wild animal body parts.
"I was at the spot when the post mortem was done. The four vets who were present felt there was no indication of poisoning. In such circumstance, when the carcass has been recovered after three or four days and when there is no circumstantial evidence, we generally take it as natural death," says Mr Hosmath, Field Director, Project Tiger (FDPT, Karnataka).
To reiterate that it is a case of natural death, Mr Hosmath, who like most FDPTs has precious little wildlife background, says: "Except for the claws, the rest of the putrefying carcass was intact. We are investigating. It will take us a while to crack the case and arrest the culprits."
If the KFD does apprehend the poacher(s), it will help to curtail the poaching. But when its “arrest-conviction” record is abysmally low, can we expect it to solve the case? More so, where is an acute shortage (54 per cent) of staff in the 992-sqkm park, which borders Kerala (Waynaad Wildlife Sanctuary) and Tamil Nadu (Madumalai national park).
For the record, poachers had, not long ago, hacked the paw of a tiger and clandestinely taken away 15 of its claws in the Gundre range of the Bandipur National Park in 2009. Even today, the authorities haven’t been able to nab the suspect.
Wildlife conservationists believe that someone might have poisoned the tiger, a straggler, which had been lifting cattle from the village. "Someone who smeared pesticide on a cattle kill
certainly knew of the tiger's impending death. He must have tracked it and taken away the paw the claws. The claws could be on its way to either Mumbai or Delhi, en route to Nepal or China," says Ashok, a wildlife activist.
Interestingly, in 25 tiger deaths (12 of these suspected to be poached) since 2008, only five pelts have been recovered. There is a fear that three more pelts, which fetch Rs 5 to 10 lakh in the international market, are in the process of being sold.
Even as this story is being written, poacher are having a field day in our tiger reserves. Spotted deer, sambar deer and wild boar are being brazenly gunned down for their meat, which is being served in some hotels on the periphery of the national park.
While there is mayhem in our forests, the Karnataka forest minister, who has advertently or inadvertently frazzled the Indian Forest Service cadre with don-quixotic transfers, continues to fiddle in the confines of Vidhana Soudha.
If the minister continues to fiddle without a care in the world, we could wish some of our our dwindling wildlife species goodbye, much, much sooner than what wildlife biologists or doomsayers had predicted them to vanish from the face of the Karnataka landscape.