By Vijay Pinjarkar
The killing of every tiger is a major setback for this critically endangered species. Poaching of 12 tigers this year, may be over 20 as claimed by the poachers, seems to have left a permanent scar on the forest department. It also illustrates just how inadequate our existing protection measures are.
Exactly a year before in December 2012, when a 'casual' raid on gangs of tiger poachers flopped at Amdi Fata, the officials did not realize that it was beginning of an end. The same poachers killed tigers and trafficked over 20 skins, sending jitters down the spine of officials who now admit that eight tigers have been killed.
It was only by May end this year officials learnt through alerts and call detail records (CDRs) of poachers on March 4, when a tiger was poached in Dhakna (Melghat), that a deal to smuggle some tiger skins from here was in the pipeline. On May 28, I got a clue but kept quiet as reporting it would have played spoilsport. On June 3, I was in Pune but kept in touch with my sources.
Two arrested Bahelia poachers Mamru and Chika had revealed that Sarju Bagdi (now in jail) had trafficked 11 tiger skins between April and May last week. The matter was kept under wraps. I did not leak the news but what I learnt after returning on June 8 was simply shocking.
Police sources, who had nothing to hide, said that at least 11 tigers were poached, but 'smart-alecks' in the forest department stood firm on only 5 tigers. I went ahead with the story and on June 9, TOI carried a front page report '5 tigers poached in Melghat'.
A perturbed Melghat field director wanted to send a clarification to TOI but didn't. His cronies were puzzled to see tigers being poached in Melghat even when the probe was on. They criticized me for the story, which they felt had alerted the poachers. Not to mention that a camp of poachers was 200 metres away from Paratwada forest division office. What a shame!
The day next, those closely involved in the probe said that an honest inquiry could swell the number to over 20 tigers. They also agreed that finding evidence will be difficult. More....