Sunday, June 06, 2010
Tracking the tiger killers
Tracking the tiger killers
India Today By Mihir Srivastava
They are the people responsible for India's iconic animal being threatened with extinction, a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. Two nomadic hunting tribes, along with corrupt or incompetent forest officials, continue to hunt the tiger in its natural habitat using primitive traps.
The result is that tiger population figures have registered an all-time low. India has lost two-thirds of its tigers in the last eight years. Driven by greed and the money they can earn by selling tiger skin and parts to the Chinese market, India's most notorious poachers are decimating tiger populations virtually unchecked.
Sariska and Panna have lost all their tigers to poaching even as forest officials feign ignorance. Principal Correspondent Mihir Srivastava has been on the trail of the poachers to identify the main culprits, their modus operandi, their buyers and the havoc they have already caused among India's tiger population. His report:
The Pardhis and Bawariyas are nomadic hunting tribes who travel across the country to poach tigers to supply them to organized smugglers in tiger parts who feed the market in China.
They commit crimes as a family vocation, are cunning, constantly on the move, and kill tigers with religious fervour. Killing a tiger means big money, Rs 2 lakh for a tiger skin, and being adept hunters, it also means easy money, tiger parts and organs fetch another Rs 2 lakh.
What is less known about these tribes is that they indulge in other criminal activities. They also kill leopards, bears and elephants for ivory, indulge in organised theft of railways and telecom properties, are into sandalwood smuggling while some do contractual murders.
2,200: tigers were killed in the last decade. Their current population is one-third of what it was in 2000.
80: sites where wild tigers exist in India. Only 39 are tiger reserves.
16: tiger reserves are critical, heading the way of Sariska and Panna which lost all their tigers to poachers.
60: tigers a year is the demand from the Chinese market from two poaching gangs alone.
Being nomadic, they cannot be traced for their crimes. Their latest racket is land scams, and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi would be shocked to know that the men and women who are killing tigers in the state's reserves are also part of a gigantic compensation scam for the Narmada Valley Project. Pardhis have migrated en-mass from various villages in Katni district of Madhya Pradesh, a Mecca for poachers, down to Khandwa and Harda districts along the Maharashtra border to seek compensation as displaced families from the Narmada Valley Project. Some of them have actually got lakhs of rupees as compensation along with land, while others are camping there for their share of the booty.
Locals know about it but are too scared to talk. Local officials do nothing presumably because they are getting a cut. If tigers are to be saved in the forests of India, this vicious network and nexus of tribals and traders will have to be broken. It is now clear that tigers and tribals cannot live together in a forest, as was the case traditionally, for the lure of big money is impossible to resist. The poachers are hired and sent into the forests by notorious traders like Sansar Chand and Shabeer Hassan Qureshi.
Both are currently in jail and together would be responsible for 1,000 tiger deaths in the last decade but now their extended families are carrying on with tiger killings. It's a tightly knit nexus: traditional hunting families supply tiger parts to traditional families trading in wild animals. Poachers-turned-informers and some Pardhis themselves revealed the modus operandi and rewards.
Here's how the unholy nexus works-and spells doom for the tiger. The tribal hunters receive orders, estimated to be for 60 tigers a year, to be skinned and body parts collected and preserved. The hunting party, including women and children, sets off by train to the target zone.
Reaching the targeted forest, they camp in the vicinity, setting up temporary shops selling cheap jewellery as a cover. It takes them just a few days to learn about tiger movements in the area. They lay out the bait-wild animal meat-to attract tigers and conceal iron traps along the path the tiger will take to the bait.
It needs a dozen-men team to monitor the movement of the tigers and the patrolling routine of forest guards. Usually, the last patrol is around midnight and they are free to stalk the tiger undisturbed till late next morning. The success rate of tribal poachers is very high but the consequences for India's national animal are tragic and inhuman.
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