By A.S.R.P. Mukesh
Chase by foresters foils wildlife harm
In a major breakthrough late last evening, foresters nabbed five poachers of a 13-member armed group from inside the core area of Palamau Tiger Reserve (PTR) near a dam in Betla, recovering traditional and modern ammunition, nets and turtle meat from them.
Hailing foresters for giving a “spirited chase to poachers” in the evening, Premjit Anand, divisional forest officer (core) of PTR, the state’s lone tiger reserve, claimed credit for his team for preventing major wildlife harm, despite the reserve’s well-known worry of manpower crunch hitting epidemic proportions.
Anand said: “A patrol team of three or four trackers spotted 13 intruders around 3pm yesterday near Nunahi Dam in the reserve’s Betla area. Poachers attacked our small team with sticks and axes. But we sent reinforcements, including tiger strike force personnel, home guards and senior foresters. After a long hide-and-seek on forest terrain, the 30-member team caught five, while eight managed to flee.”
He added that interrogation of those caught — Sunder Singh, Binod Singh, Edition Singh, Suresh Singh and Bijender Singh — revealed that the poachers were all experienced hands hailing from Barwadih in Latehar, and planned to stay put inside the forest to unobtrusively kill animals at night.
From poachers, foresters seized axes, a farsha, nets, traps, a cellphone and a rod used to fill gunpowder in countrymade pistols. They also recovered meat of two turtles, an endangered species.
“Samples of turtle meat have been sent to Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, for DNA analysis,” Anand said.
The accused have been booked under sections of Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 (Amended 2006) and produced before subdivisional judicial magistrate in Latehar.
Stressing they had beefed up security after dramatic events of yesterday, Anand said they were coordinating with their Latehar counterparts to catch the eight. “We know their identities,” he added.
But even as Palamau officials congratulate themselves for preventing a catastrophe, there is no getting around the fact that the tiger reserve has too few staffers, putting it at the mercy of trespassers.
The reserve has around 124 sanctioned forest guard posts, but some 26 currently exist. Even so, their average age is between 57 and 58, making them too old for the physically demanding task of forest patrol.
Palamau makes do as best it can with casual labourers as patrolling teams and trackers.
But for a reserve that incorporates Betla National Park, and covering area from the edge of Netarhat hills in the south to Auranga river in the north, nudging Madhya Pradesh in the west and Latehar-Sarju road in the east, adequate manpower and infrastructure help are crucial.
Thick groves of palas (Butea monospermas) and mahua (Madhuca indica), which gives Palamau its name and wildlife its privacy, also make the job of patrolling difficult.
Palamau reserve, which announced its closure from today to September 30 to make tourism off-limits in the monsoon breeding season, needs to nudge the state to fill vacancies and secure its borders.
Two years ago in February, a leopard skin was seized from PTR. In February 2013, high alert was sounded when Panna Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, told Palamau counterparts about Bahelia and Pardhi hunting tribes having infiltrated Jharkhand. In November 2013, over 50 traps were recovered.