By Vivek Deshpande
The increasing number of tigers poached in Maharashtra — currently pegged at nine — in less than a year has brought back the spectre of Sariska, Ranthambore and Panna that had been completely robbed off their tigers not long ago.
Add to them at least two tigers poached in the adjoining parts of Madhya Pradesh and one tiger found killed in the core area of Kanha a few days ago. And this could be just half the total number of tigers killed by organised gangs from Katni in Madhya Pradesh, if sources are to be believed.
The claim doesn't sound exaggerated given the fact that some notorious poachers, who are known to have operated in Maharashtra during the period, are still at large and, according to arrested wildlife trafficker Sarju alias Surajbhan, they too had visited the area to take away tiger parts.
Forest officials are scared that the count is going up with every arrest and are now veering toward the "safer" option of not registering new instances of poaching "to be able to carry out the investigations in a focused manner". So far, 16 alleged poachers have been arrested since May.
Twelve known instances of tiger poaching from five tiger reserves and sanctuaries in one year should have set the alarm bells ringing for the tiger conservation machinery. But nobody, including leading tiger conservationists, is talking about it, except media reports in Maharashtra.
Even Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan was unaware of it. When asked about her take on the serious goings-on in central India's tiger landscape, she asked, "Which tiger poaching case you are talking about?" Clearly, she hasn't been kept in the loop by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) led by Rajesh Gopal. NTCA's virtually unchangeable member-secretary, Gopal, was in charge even during the Sariska-Ranthambore-Panna tiger tragedies, seven years ago. The question, therefore, is: have we learnt any lesson from the triple tragedy?