Poachers had killed a tiger and five locals arrested had admitted to their crime.

 

HYDERABAD: Sustained efforts by the Central and state forest departments have ensured increased presence of tigers in the Kawal Tiger Reserve (KTR) in Mancherial district in the northern tip of Telangana over the years, but in a sad development, the presence of poachers, too, has gone up recently. The brutal killing of a three-year-old tiger by electrocution in the forests last month has revealed this shocking fact.

Forest officials in a joint operation with the wild life crime control bureau have found a 3.5 km long electrical fence connected to a 11 KV power line in the thick jungle. This fence is used to trap and kill tigers roaming the area for their prey animals during nights. The tiger, recorded in the CCTV cameras in the forest, disappeared since last week of October 2018.

Initially, it was thought that the big cat might have gone to adjoining forests in Maharashtra or Chhattisgarh where, too, some areas have been declared tiger sanctuaries. However, on a tip off, forest officials found that a gang of poachers had killed the tiger and five locals arrested in this connection had admitted to their crime. They sold the skin and claws of tiger to the traders in Hyderabad.

The accused had shown the place where the carcass of tiger was buried and confessed illegally arranging an electrical fence. It is still to be probed whether they had the support of any forest staff in connecting the fence to a high tension power line. As the tiger reserve closes for tourists after 7 pm, the miscreants give power connection to the fence to target the tigers which roam around mostly in nights.

The arrested had also told the officials that they had killed the tiger for the sake of its skin and claws which command a huge price in the market and they were in touch with some smugglers who had links with the traders outside the country. One of the arrested Guglavat Prakash, a local tribal, was arrested in connection with poaching of a nilgai in Kawal forests. The unearthing of this tiger killing has dismayed the Telangana forest officials who only a month ago were celebrating the increased presence of tigers in the Kawal Reserve which came into being since 2012. This 2,015 sq km tiger reserve is considered to be a global hub, conducive for the growth and survival of tigers, thanks to its terrain and climate. They estimated presence of 12 tigers in the area.

This is not the first a tiger has been killed by poachers in Kawal reserve. In December 2016, officials recovered a tiger skinned body burnt inside the forest and registered a case. There were instances of tiger killings in 2014, 2012, 2011, 2008, 2006, 2003 and 1985. The presence of tigers was less before Kawal was just a wildlife sanctuary since 1965 before it became a tiger reserve six years ago.   

The forest department registered 84 cases of killing of wild animals by poachers in 2015-16,  followed by 79 cases in 2016-17, 78 cases in 2017-18 and more than 70 cases in the current year, till January first week.

Forest officials admitted that most of the killings of different kinds of wild animals go unreported as there is no information from the locals, mostly tribals. Poachers encourage locals to kill animals for meat, while they take away skin and bones, claws etc.

The thick forests that connect three states—Telangana, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh—and the flow of major river Godavari and its half a dozen tributaries through the area and the availability of a large number of small animals and its rich flora and fauna have made Kawal an ideal tiger reserve. However, lack of awareness of locals in some villages in the forest and poachers have become a threat to tigers.

Chief Conservators of Forests Sharavanan told this newspaper on phone from Mancherial that the Kawal has emerged as a big habitat for tigers in the country and their population has registered a jump in the last six years. The population of other wild animals, too, went up, thanks to sustained efforts by both the Center and states. He admitted that crime against tigers and other wild animals, too, went up over the years.

Poachers from Mumbai and Hyderabad have made it a point to visit Kawal and hire locals to kill tigers of late. It was difficult for them to enter the tiger zones from Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh due to their inaccessibility. Kawal tiger reserve is 60 km from Mancherial and 280 km from Hyderabad and is well connected by road.

Poachers have been resorting to practices like poisoning of animal killed as prey to the tigers and electrocution and shooting by guns during nights. Though the presence of tigers went up in the last few years, there was no improvement in the vigil and surveillance in the forests, due to inadequate staff and infrastructure. The latest killing of tiger is expected to see some movement among the officials.

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