Game no more

On 6 June, a patrol party of Madhya Pradesh Forest department discovered the body of a tiger from a cave in the forests of Sehore district, neighbouring Bhopal. The body was neatly cut into two parts. The veterinarians surmised that the tiger was killed by electrocution at least three days earlier. Further investigations revealed that the big cat was killed by passing electric current through a water hole frequented by the animal. The poachers cut the body into two halves as they found it too heavy to be carried away.

After a huge hue and cry, seven persons were arrested and were sent to jail by a court.

Madhya Pradesh has become a veritable haven for tiger poachers. In the last decade, the state has lost as many as 453 Tigers, bringing down the number of felines in the state to 257 (2011) from 710 (2001). It is a SOS situation, say Greens.
Madhya Pradesh lost the title of ‘Tiger State’ to Karnataka after the 2011 biennial census which revealed that while only 257 tigers were left in the State, the number of tigers in the southern state had grown to 300. Till a few years ago, MP was the biggest home of tigers in India. It accounted for almost a quarter of the country’s tiger population, earning it the sobriquet of 'Tiger State'. At least 710 tigers inhabited the 9 national parks and 25 wildlife sanctuaries of the state. Kanha national park alone held more than 100 big cats and was an international tourist destination.    

Over the last decade, poaching has claimed hundreds of tigers in the state. The latest Tiger Census (2011) put the number of tigers in the state at 257. Significantly, in the period 2007-11, the number of tigers in the country as a whole has risen significantly but in MP, the big cat is still engaged in a bitter battle for survival.

The claws, nails and other body parts of the tiger are highly prized in China and the far-eastern countries for their supposedly aphrodisiacal property. It is to fulfill this demand that poachers kill tigers in MP and other parts of the country. Their remains are then smuggled abroad for a fabulous profit. A dead tiger is said to be worth at least Rs 20 lakh in the international market.  

Every time the report of yet another fall in tiger population comes in, the state government comes out with yet another scheme to counter the poachers. However, nothing seems to work. The state has a ‘Tiger Cell’, headed by an IGP, and a ‘Tiger Strike Force’ based at Bhopal to conduct raids and gather intelligence about tiger poachers, but tigers continue to be decimated.  
The state government has been rubbishing the reports of successive tiger censuses. Several forest ministers of the state have dismissed the tiger census reports as ‘alarmist’ and ‘unscientific’, overlooking the fact that the exercise is now conducted using modern equipment like infra-red cameras, rather than the antiquated pugmark method.  

Wildlife, especially tigers, has contributed immensely to making Madhya Pradesh a popular tourist destination. Around 10 lakh Indian and foreign tourists visit the state’s national parks and sanctuaries every year. Kanha alone accounts for over a lakh visitors. The state earns close to Rs 10 cr annually from Indian and foreign wildlife tourists.

But rather than taking concrete steps to combat poachers, the government has been taking cosmetic measures to boost wildlife tourism and repeating ad nauseum that it is committed to protecting the magnificent animal. The ground situation is that in the last ten years, the government could secure conviction of the accused in only two cases of poaching. And the convicts were the forest-dwellers who carried out the killing for a pittance; not the real kingpins of the trade.
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