The official number of tigers left in India is disputed, but there is no question that they are under threat. Gethin Chamberlain meets the groups who are turning the tables on the poachers and bringing them to account. Slipping through the darkness across the state border, the anti-poaching team was a bundle of nerves. Not only was it up against the biggest and most powerful tiger-killer in the region, but it also had to avoid running into the local police, for fear it would tip the target off.
They knew the man they were after, Devi Singh, had killed at least five tigers in the Ranthambhore reserve in Rajasthan, one of India's most popular national parks. Heavily built and standing at least 182cm tall, Singh was also the sarpanch, or headman, of his village. In short, he was trouble. But the team had a plan. One of their members, a policeman, walked up to the front door and knocked. His pistol, tucked into his belt, was concealed by a heavy jumper. It was 11pm and pitch black. Inside their jeeps, his colleagues cradled their AK47s and fingered the triggers, expecting trouble.
A bleary-eyed Singh opened the door. The man standing outside spun him the line they had rehearsed: they were road contractors and they needed Singh to help them sort out a problem with a local official. There was money in it for Singh, he hinted. The poacher took the bait. It was only as the vehicles sped past the turn-off for the official's home that he realised he had fallen into a trap. He was surrounded by heavily armed men, with nowhere to go. The tables had been turned.
Dharmendra Khandal sits in the offices of Tiger Watch, an organisation established 12 years ago to try to stem the decline of Ranthambhore's wildlife. As he toys with a heavy iron skinning knife, he recounts the story. "We asked him how many tigers he had poached and he said five. He told us everything, about how he had poached and killed the tigers," he says. "He used a muzzle loading gun. He said if you fired in the jungle it was a loud sound, but the forest guards did not come, even though they must have heard the shots.
"He said they would go into the park for maybe a week at a time to catch a tiger. Sometimes the villagers helped. Maybe a tiger had killed their cattle and so they informed the poacher." Khandal shrugs. More....