The new year has got off to a grim start for tigers. Every time it looks like the big cats have a chance of survival, news of another poacher-smuggler racket raises its ugly head. The recent tiger killings in Madhya Pradesh is a case in point that made a mockery of the "all-out efforts" that are being made to protect wild life in the state.
On January 10, the Jabalpur police busted an inter-state poaching racket, recovering two tiger and two leopard hides from three persons belonging to a skin-trading tribe. One of the tiger hides seized from them measured 10-feet. The accused have confessed to killing the big cats and supplying hides to Delhi and Mumbai via Nagpur.
The police also recovered a .312 bore country made loaded pistol with five live cartridges and a .32 bore revolver along with three cartridges from the accused --- Ravishanker alias Gudda Barkhade and Jhiru alias Parosi, both belonging to the Baiga tribe, and a Dalit butcher Agnulal Raidas.
"We get Rs 4000 for an animal kill carried out in the forest near Dindori on the Madhya Pradesh- Chhattisgarh border, Raidas let on.
The police, on a tip off, sent a decoy who contacted Ravishanker at Hardulikala village. Subsequently, the other two accused were contacted and a deal for tiger hides struck. When the trio came to an agreed meeting point to sell the hides, they were arrested. Superintendent of Police D Sriniwas Rao says, "We are getting into the details and we are hopeful about establishing a link between the Pardhis, middlemen and the big poachers of Madhya Pradesh."
The gang, which was active in Kundam and Shahpura blocks, is reported to have links in Nagpur. A police team has already left for the Orange City to investigate further.
It was only on January 8 that the Gondia police had made their last catch. Seven members of a poaching gang, which was active in the jungles of Balaghat district, Madhya Pradesh and Gondia of Maharashtra, had been arrested and two tiger skins recovered from them.
Similarly, a month ago, two leopards and a reech were found dead near Sajpani village. The animals had been electrocuted. On December 12, a fully grown tiger was also killed at the Bandhavgarh National Park. Anant Ram, president of Van Suraksha Samiti, Boregaon, detected the case at Sanwri Reeth. Placing high voltage current in the forests had killed the animal.
Another big cat was found dead in a suspicious condition in the jungles of Umaria on December 9.
In what is a well-oiled network, big poachers are dependent on traditional hunters to run their operations. Environmentalists blame both the central and state government for not having any a concrete plan to check the problem. Says Manish Kulshreshtha of the International Wildlife Tiger Conservation Group: "The gap between officials and Pardhis should be lessened and assistance of NGOs be taken to bring the tribes (Pardhis) into the mainstream of society." He expresses hope of a model action plan for the rehabilitation of Pardhis. He says the villagers should be given financial aid to compensate for the wild life damage of their cattle and crops. Unaruguable, wild life conservation programmes would need to address such issues if they are to be meaningful.