CHENNAI: Convictions in tiger poaching cases are not rare in India, particularly in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. However, in Tamil Nadu, while it has been established that seven of the 37 tiger deaths since 2014 were due to poaching, not a single conviction has been made. In fact, none of the cases of tiger poaching has seen a conviction in the past 10 years.
A total of 37 tigers were reported dead in the reserve forests of Tamil Nadu since 2014. While seven of the big cats were killed by poisoning or snare trapping or electrocution, three tigers were shot dead after they were declared as man-eaters. Since 2014, when 15 deaths were reported, the number has come down.
T P Raghunath, principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden (recently retired), attributed the absence of convictions to weak documentation of a wildlife crime that would go in favour of the accused. “Also, while collecting evidence, officials should be careful not to miss out the tiniest of evidence. Senior officials should take time to interrogate the suspects.” If there is no quick follow-up in a case, there are chances that the accused would find some loophole to weaken the case, he said.
Of the five tiger deaths in the state in 2018, one was a case of poaching by electrocution at Thalavadi range in the Hasanur division of forests in the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve (STR). “Of the five tigers that died, four were due to aging. STR officials are following up the case in connection with the electrocution of a tiger in January 2018,” said Raghunath. STR officials said the accused has been remanded and the case is under trial.
Of the three tigers reported dead in 2017, one was a case of poisoning in the Sathyamangalam division of forests on May 5, a tiger cub was killed in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve due to an old snare wound found on its neck on November 19.
In 2016, of eight tiger deaths, two were due to poisoning. While one case was reported in the Kodaikanal division of forests, another was in the Nilgiris south division of forests.
In 2015, though there was no report of poaching of tigers, forest officials confiscated fresh tiger parts such as bones and claws. Officials of the Biligiri Ranga Temple Tiger reserve arrested a resident of a village near Mettupalayam for possessing a bag of tiger bones, near Poonjanur close to the Sathyamangalam forest area, on October 1, 2015. Two people were arrested under the Wildlife Act. However, this case does not figure in the list of tiger deaths in the Tamil Nadu forest department’s register for 2015, even as suspected tiger poaching.
Raghunath attributed the obvious jump in the numbers of tigers in the four tiger reserves in Tamil Nadu to regular and constant monitoring of the movements of the animals by anti-poaching watchers and surprise combing operations. He said a comprehensive proposal, which is being prepared, will factor in the carrying capacity of forests and the increase in wildlife.
K Kalidas, president, Oasi, and former member of the state wildlife board said: “When it comes to natural death of tigers, there is no need to worry. Meticulous conservation of tigers started in the country in 2000. Given that the lifespan of a tiger is around 14 years, tigers born after 2000 would start dying after 2013. But to check poaching, the forest department needs to put in extra effort. All anti-poaching sheds in the tiger reserves should be manned regularly. And the anti-poaching watchers should be provided basic facilities.”
“As far as wildlife crimes are concerned, the rate of conviction is meagre. The investigation machinery of the forest department should be equipped with latest technology to handle the cases,” Kalidas said. Government pleaders and forest field staff should be trained in the Wildlife Act to deal with documentation, investigation and collection of evidence.