Saturday, April 17, 2010

Another Tiger Bites The Dust

It is increasingly frightening, even depressing, that we are recovering tiger pelts virtually every second month in and around the Bandipur and Mudumalai tiger reserves, where there is a viable, sustainable population of our flagship species.

On Tuesday (April 14, 2010), the Tamil Nadu Forest Department (TNFD) recovered a tiger skin and arrested five poachers and two of their accomplices in the Sigur range, near Anaikatty, indicating that all is not well in Karnataka’s neighborhood as well.

That there has been uncontrolled fire in this region (Sigur and surrounds), intriguingly since the TN government served notices to illegally established wildlife resorts in the elephant corridor near Masina Guddi, is a matter of grave concern.

Wildlife conservationists allege that irked resort owners could have possibly set the bush fire which raged for three and a half days. They are intrigued that the forest staff did precious little to stop the fire which engulfed almost 30 acres of forest cover in Thengu Marada.

It is surprising that this incident (fire) occurred, despite having a proactive district forest officer (DFO, north) in K Soundarapandian, who has done remarkable work since taking charge of the tiger reserve.

Obviously, some wildlife resort owners in Masina Guddi are up to mischief. We learn through "on ground" sources that the resorts, which have been asked to close shop to recover elephant corridor, have backed the Gudalur "rasta roko" bundh called by local tribal leaders on April 19. They are protesting against the night traffic ban which has imposed by the Chamrajnagar Deputy Commissioner and upheld by the Karnataka high court.

That one of the poachers arrested in Sigur allegedly belonged to the Paniya tribe, has infuriated the locals to take up the cudgels against the Tamnil Nadu forest department.

The latest tiger pelt recovery indicates that poachers are active in Sigur and Upkara ranges in Mudumalai and Gundre, Maddur and Mulehole ranges in Bandipur. For the record, as many as 14 tigers have died, some to territorial fights, in as many months in these “supposedly” inviolate, critical tiger habitats.

Wildlife activists allege that range forest officers (RFOs) have been squabbling over gate collection at the Kalhatti gate (which leads to the Ooty) and in their greed for quick bucks are allowing poachers to have field day in Mudumalai.

There have been reports that deer, sambar and gaur (Indian bison) meat are being sold in the markets at Masina Guddi and Gudalur, which has become the epicenter of wildlife trade in the southern India. It is believed that some hotels in the vicinity offer “wild meat” to their regular customers.

While it is obvious that poaching is rampant, there is also a lingering fear that tigers and leopards are being poisoned in this region. A fortnight ago, the decayed remains of a six-month-old (presumably) tiger cub was discovered in the Maddur Range of the Bandipur national park, near the carcass of a cow. Though there are reasons to believe that it could have been poisoned by irate villagers, the postmortem report suggests it had died of natural cause.

Instead of getting to the root of the cause of death, it is becoming fashionable for senior forest officers to lay the blame on territorial fights. If someone is murdered in Bangalore or Chennai , Delhi or Mumbai, every effort is made to get to the bottom of the cause of death. But when it comes to wildlife, everything is swept under the carpet to ensure that the officers involved in protection don’t waste their time filing forest offence cases (FOC) and attend court.

Now that five poachers, including two forest dwellers, have been arrested, the wildlife crime bureau would do well to cast its intelligence net far and wide and break the poacher-buyer nexus.

That as many as four tiger pelts and other body parts have been recovered in the last eight months in Bandipur and Mudumalai is indeed startling. Hopefully, our slumbering forest officers will awaken to this rude “Alarm Call.”

Else, more tigers, which have become increasingly vulnerable to poaching in our reserves, could be on their way to the flourishing body-parts markets in Nepal and the Far-East.

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