By A.S.R.P. Mukesh
The gentle giant of Palamau Tiger Reserve (PTR) is no more. Unidentified poachers shot 50-year-old beloved tusker Ganesh on the precincts of the national park yesterday, split open his jaw and escaped with one tusk, his death casting a pall of gloom over the area and making a mockery of chief minister Hemant Soren’s Van Mahotsav speech on “saving forests and animals” today.
Lax security at PTR dealt a body blow to Ganesh, the oldest of the eight tuskers at the reserve, pointing to a possible nexus between poachers from Chhattisgarh, barely 15-16km away, and trackers looking for easy money from illegal ivory trade.
The carcass of the magnificent animal was discovered late last night at BC-6 compartment of the Baresand range of the 1,124sqkm reserve’s buffer area, one tusk missing. The smaller tusk was untouched. Prima facie, the animal was felled in daylight.
PTR field director S.E.H. Kazmi has gone to the site to oversee formalities, including post-mortem. Though details are awaited, sources say the genial elephant could have been shot at point-blank range.
“Ganesh was not ferocious like other tuskers. He never rampaged homes or paddy fields. He was mast maula (fun-loving) yet gentle. So, whoever shot him could have easily done so at point-blank range,” said a veteran forester.
The obvious challenge before PTR now is to nab the culprits, but so far no game plan has emerged. “We are on the case and will leave no stone unturned to nab the culprits,” said principal chief conservator of forests D.K. Srivastava.
If the poachers are from Chhattisgarh, chances are the tusk will find its way to Nagpur in Maharashtra or Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. Most stolen ivory makes its way to international markets, including Nepal. The network is cash-rich and well oiled.
Between October and December last year, PTR lost three elephants under mysterious conditions. In 2012, a leopard was killed but officials managed to arrest one of the poachers after two months when he was trying to sell the skin in Satbarwa, near Palamau.
Fifteen years ago, a tiger was killed in PTR and its skin found in Chhattisgarh, which then was part of its parent state Madhya Pradesh.
As modus operandi, poachers befriend ill-paid trackers, many of whom are resentful towards authorities for the contractual nature of jobs. These trackers, enticed by easy money and lacking any reason to be loyal to the reserve, pass on crucial information on endangered animals to poachers.
But instead of plugging infrastructure and security gaps, subsequent state governments have mouthed platitudes.
Even today, chief minister Hemant spoke at Van Mahotsav at Morabadi in the capital on how wildlife was precious and how people should work together for its conservation.
Wildlife activist D.S. Srivastava, who rushed to Palamau today, blamed the government for not making endangered animals safe. Recalling his encounters with Ganesh, he said: “Cool as a cucumber, he was the cynosure of all eyes at PTR. Tourists across generations loved to see his antics.”