The Killing Fields (Part II) : Crosshairs On The Tiger

Gone are the days of ethical hunters like Jim Corbett, heavy game rifles and the code of honor that used to exist between both the hunter and the hunted. Even today indiscriminate killing of wild animals continue unabated though hunting has been formally banned by the Government in 1970s. Elephants and the Indian one horned rhinos are killed using IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and automatic weapons like AK-47. Hunting is no longer a sport, it is strictly for cash. More accurately poaching is a lucrative business and all the killings of wild animals (or should I say methodical execution) are perpetrated by the poachers who have streamlined the method of killing. No gunshots or explosive devices but high tension electric lines probably hooked to the railway electric supply lines and poison are the most preferred agents of delivering death. While elephants are killed for the tusks, rhinos for their horns (items that fetch an exorbitant price in the global market), the focus has now shifted to the tigers.

Ironically the poachers have targeted the tiger conservations and their most recent targets are the tiger conservations of Madhya Pradesh. Working in collusion with the corrupt forest guards, the poachers are mercilessly killing tigers in the various tiger conservations of MP, once the famous ‘Tiger State’. The kills are smuggled to Nepal, Burma and China. While a variety of medicines are prepared in China from tiger bone dusts, the tiger skins are further exported from Nepal and Burma, abroad. Nepal and Burma are mere transit points. Despite much hue and cry raised by Maneka Gandhi and her organization PETA, the number of tigers keeps dwindling. It is to be mentioned here that India accounts for 60% of the total tiger population of the world.

The deplorable condition of the tiger conservation projects in Madhya Pradesh:
There are six tiger conservation projects in Madhya Pradesh namely Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Panna, Bori-Satpura, Sanjay Dubri and Pench. According to the 2001-2002 censuses, the total population of tigers in the various conservation projects was 710 that accredited the state with the nickname ‘Tiger State’. Between the period of 2001 and 2011 the state recorded the demise of 453 tigers. Poaching has increased at an alarming rate during the period of 2012-2013. During this period, 5 tigers have been decapitated using high voltage electric lines. As per Government records the demises of 13 tigers has been accounted for till the middle of December 2012. Of these four were deliberately electrocuted by the poachers. The forest departments excuse that one out of the four tigers that died of electrocution in 2012 is ‘accidental’, is evidently lame because high tension wires carrying enough voltage to kill a tiger never run at the ground level.
This was followed by the poaching of two more tigers, one in December 2012 and the other in February 2013 raising the death toll to15 in 2012-2013. The method of electrocution to kill animals by the poachers first came under observation with the demise of four tigers, three leopards and 15 other different wild animals between the periods of 1998-2005.

The bi-monthly drill followed by the big-shot forest officials of inspecting poaching and other probable causes related to the death of wild animals proved to be completely hollow as evident from the electrocution of a tiger on February 25th 2013 near Katni. Much of this information has been revealed by the RTI activist Ajay Dube. As per the comprehensive account provided by him, one tiger was decapitated by the poachers on June 5, 2012 (electrocution) in the proximity of the Kathoutia Forest Range, Bhopal, another tiger and a cow met their demise on November 18, 2012 again electrocution, (which the forest department covered up as a possible accident). In addition to this another tiger was poached in the Umaria district (electrocution) on December 12, followed by a similar incident on December 26, 2012 in Katni, the same place where another tiger was electrocuted on February 25, 2013. An interesting observation made by Ajay was that of the 5 tigers poached, 4 were in the Umaria and the Katni districts which are supposed to a part of the famous Bandhavgarh tiger conservation project, a safe haven for these big felines.

Convictions in the poaching cases:
With a death toll of 435 tigers in the last decade, only two convictions have been made so far. The convicted poachers got away with three years of jail sentence and just a penalty of Rs 10,000 per head. One of the perpetrators belonged to the Umaria division (part of the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve) and the other to the Sehora division (part of the Kanha forest reserve). In addition to this, three separate cases of convictions concerning poaching of leopards were the best that the state could do. As accurately pointed out by the RTI activist Ajay Dube, the poachers are aware of all the loopholes in the flawed conviction system, and they are more than sure that they will get away with mild sentences if ever caught in the heinous act of poaching.

Other factors endangering the tigers in the MP Tiger Reserves:
The tiger reserves are manned by corrupt forest officials and totally negligent and inept forest department personnel without even proper veterinary support. The pathetic death of the tigress upon consumption of spurious buffalo flesh (staple diet of the tigers in the reserve) is a burning example. The foods supplied to the tigers are never checked for quality nor do the tigers get proper medical attention, if they fall sick. The cause of the death of the tigress could not be ascertained as the body was deliberately not preserved, so no autopsy could be carried out.

New mandates introduced by the NTCA ; Government endeavours to stop poaching:
National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), DIG, S P Yadav declared, “Every tiger in the country is under the threat of poaching”. The new mandates imposed by the NTCA on the high mortality rate of tigers specifically dictates that every death of a tiger will be regarded as a case of poaching unless the state can furnish irrefutable evidence to negate such a consideration. NTCA mandates will discourage the forest departments’ habit of covering up cases of tiger demise and bring about more clarity in the autopsy procedures. The current population of 1500 tigers in the country is being photographically and electronically monitored by the NTCA, using satellite facilities. The stripes of a particular tiger are as exclusive for that tiger as a fingerprint of a person. Based on the uniqueness of the stripes, each tiger has been allotted an identification tag. A new computer program has also been envisaged which can match the imagery of the animal with dead skin using this identification tag as a basis and can also detect accurately the time and place of a particular poaching case. Of the three illegal tiger skins confiscated by the authorities recently in Nepal, one skin matched perfectly with that of a tiger from Madhya Pradesh and this was ascertained using the new computer program.

The death toll of 453 tigers in the various tiger reserves of MP in a decade is almost half the global death toll (1069) in the same decade. RTI activist Ajay Dube’s efforts disclosed the alarming rate at which the tigers are meeting their demise. “When people talk about South Africa it is all about elephants and lions. But when we talk about India we talk about tigers”. Truly can we not contribute something to help this majestic animal on the brink of extinction?