NAGPUR: A day after TOI reported that five tigers were killed by organized gangs of tiger poachers belonging to the notorious Baheliya community from Katni in Madhya Pradesh, it is feared that the same poachers have killed at least four more tigers in Vidarbha and Madhya Pradesh. Their tally for the last two months stands at a shocking 9.

Investigating officials, led by divisional forest officer (DFO)PD Masram and ACF Nandkishore Kale, refused to divulge the number of tigers killed by the poachers, three of whom have been arrested (2 near Nagpur and 1 in Amravati). However, those involved in the interrogation, told TOI that the poachers had confessed to different gangs being in operation and killing nine tigers.

According to the poachers, the gangs killed tigers in Parseoni(2) near Ramtek, Melghat (2) and Tumsar-Tiroda (2) in Gondia, and Umred (1). The tally goes up to 9 after they revealed on Wednesday that two more were killed in Chhui in Mandla and Seoni, both in MP. However, forest officials are aware of only one death - in Melghat - so far.The two poachers - Badlu (Mamru) and Chika - nabbed from Mansar said that the gangs have already sold five tiger skins and body parts to a Delhi-based agent. Badlu, Chika and Siri, who were held in Paratwada, were produced before a local court in Nagpur. The court extended their forest custody till June 15.

Tiger parts and skins are in great demand in many countries, especially China. Poachers generally take the Nepal route to smuggle the consignment. Despite forest officials in tiger states being put on high alert since August 2012 and their own claims of better monitoring, tigers continue to vanish. The national figure as per the 2010 census stands 1706, with the next four-yearly census planned next year.

Under pressure to show that they are taking action, the forest officials distributed a hastily scribbled press note (unsigned) on a plain sheet of paper. In it, they confirmed TOI's report on Monday that the death of one tiger in Melghat is being investigated."Based on the information and names provided by the duo, we have the names of 16 poachers who are involved in poaching tigers," said Masram.
Sources in the interrogating team said that one of the targeted tigers was a big male, popularly known as 'Rashtrapati', near New Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary in Gondia.On May 30, Nagpur IG had received an alert from Delhi about the poachers' presence near Ramtek. The local crime branch (LCB) caught two at Mansar. The forest officials too zeroed in on the same gang. They also traced some call details of poachers who were involved in the killing of another tiger in Dhakna, in Melghat, in March.

Badlu and Chika have revealed they are acquainted with Siri. They also led forest officials to Ghatang in Melghat where they had trapped a tiger and a bear. Unconfirmed sources said that a leopard too was killed in the same trap. The poaching incidents are an indicator why tiger numbers in Melghat have dwindled from 70 in 2007 to 30 in 2012.

The poachers also told officials that a meeting of gang members from four villages was held in Hardwa in Katni in the first week of April and areas of operation were distributed. The duo said they reached Katol and went to Paratwada by bus and trapped the Ghatang tiger.
Siri is a member of a poaching syndicate and foresters believe he must have been involved in the killing of more tigers in Melghat for several years. He used to take local help to assemble metal traps.

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