‘Arrest of six poachers is only the tip of the iceberg’

The arrest of an inter-State gang of poachers operating in the vicinity of BRT Tiger Reserve on Friday has underlined the perennial threat to national parks and tiger landscapes from dealers in wildlife derivatives.

Conservation activists believe the arrest of the six persons — hailing from Haryana — is only the tip of the iceberg as they are nomadic and travel in large numbers with specific instructions from key persons who remote control their operations but remain incognito.

K.S. Sudheer, trustee, Voice for Wildlife Trust, told The Hindu that the gang had specific instructions to reach the BRT site and hence they had established temporary camp outside the tiger reserve.

While three jaw traps had already been laid inside the forests, it is only providence that they were caught. The gang members had to venture out of the forests to get a steel spring repaired and were caught when sighted by Forest Department guards.

These traps had been removed and the entire BRT Tiger Reserve, Kollegal Wildlife Range, and the periphery forests have been combed, once by the Forest Department staff and again by the members of the Special Tiger Force, Mr. Sudheer said.

Incidentally, one of the accused, Jagadish, was wanted in connection with a poaching case in Himachal Pradesh and he had come to Karnataka after securing bail, Mr. Sudheer said.

Meanwhile, inquiries with the gang have revealed that they would set the trap during evening and go into hiding during day time to evade detection by forest guards.

D. Rajkumar of Wildlife Conservation Foundation, Mysore, said the modus operandi of the Forest Department’s anti-poaching cell was well-known among poachers and they made efforts to hoodwink them. “Foot patrolling generally takes place during day time and hence the poachers go into hiding and emerge only at night when the patrolling by jeep along the safari route is the norm,” Mr. Sudheer pointed out.

“Poachers know well that the response time will be slow during night — especially during rainy season and hence will be working overtime. Hence it is important that foot patrolling is intensified,” Mr. Rajkumar said.

Both Bandipur and Nagarahole have been targeted by poachers in the past and it is now clear that the network of poachers is trying to spread its tentacles into other tiger reserves in south India. BRT Tiger Reserve along with Bandipur, Nagarahole in Karnataka, Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu and Wayanad in Kerala constitutes a contiguous habitat for predators like tigers.

It has been identified as one of the high-density tiger landscapes harbouring about 214 to 239 tigers in the Karnataka side while the tiger population range spread over the three States in these contiguous jungles is said to be in the range of 354 to 411 as per the National Tiger Conservation Authority statistics.

While such statistics about tiger population augurs well for the long-term conservation of the species, it also emboldens the poachers to spread their dragnet in view of the demand for tiger parts in the illegal market.

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