RED ALERT IN MAHARASHTRA AS POACHERS GET ORDER FOR 25 TIGERS - 16th May 2012

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN NAGPUR:

With tiger poachers from the Bahelia community of Katni in Madhya Pradesh planning to strike it rich in Maharashtra, especially in the Vidarbha region, the state government has sounded a red alert. "Intelligence reports say that Bahelia gangs have been ordered to kill 25 tigers for their skins. These gangs have also been paid an advance of Rs 40 lakh," Praveen Pardeshi, state principal secretary (forests), told TOI. (1 lakh = 100 000 rupees)

Until last year, in international markets, a tiger skin would fetch $20,000, which is over a crore of rupees at today's rates (1 crore = 10 000 000 rupees). Their body parts like claws, hair and bones are sold at the rate of $1200 per kg which converts to about Rs 6.50 lakhs. Bahelias are known for killing tigers with the help of metal traps. Experts say members from this community simultaneously operate at multiple locations at any given time, anywhere in the country and are ruthless in their approach. Interestingly, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau's (WCCB) headquarter in Delhi, which should be playing a proactive role in such matters, is unaware about the alert. M Maranko, WCCB's regional deputy director based in Mumbai, said the regional office is not empowered to issue such alerts but admitted that bureau's Delhi officials are investigating the tiger poaching case that occurred on April 26 in Palasgaon on the periphery of the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve ( TATR) in Chandrapur district.

On the contrary, SB Negi, the joint director of WCCB said from Delhi that no alert has been sounded from "our office". "If the state government seeks help we are ready to probe the case," Negi said. This brings to the fore the indifferent attitude of the WCCB towards poaching of tigers. Meanwhile, Pardeshi has put on alert all the territorial and wildlife wing officials in the State directing them to monitor all water holes daily. He has also asked them to take help of volunteers and wildlife buffs. The range forest officers (RFOs) have been asked to meet all police patils and joint forest management committee (JFMC) members in the fringe villages of forests to seek information. Forest officials have also been asked to display posters in every village in Chandrapur district announcing awards of Rs 5,000 to anyone giving information leading to seizure of steel traps and poison. Officials have been told to move in auto-rickshaws to different villages to publicise the award campaign. In another stringent move, forest guards and foresters have been directed not to go on leave till June 15th.

The additional principal chief conservators of forests (APCCF) have been asked to ensure daily visits and digital images of guards visiting all catalogued water holes that are to be maintained. Poaching activity has been at its peak during the past three years. Since 2008, at least half a dozen tigresses have gone missing from the Tadoba landscape, leaving cubs orphaned and destined to a life in cages. Some cubs died due to hunger as they were unable to hunt.

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