Field staff of Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary burnt the carcass to hide poaching?

: In a shocking incident, the field staff of Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Theni district had allegedly burnt the carcass of a tusker to hide the fact that it was an incident of poaching.

The incident took place a few days ago. The animal was found dead in Venniar beat, Cumbum East in Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary, and the authorities have begun an investigation into the cause of the animal’s death and who burnt the carcass.

R.K. Bharathi, Conservator of Forests, Madurai, confirmed that both the death and the burning of the carcass took place four days ago within the Megamalai sanctuary area. The officials have removed the skull of the animal on Thursday, which has been sent to Coimbatore-based wildlife veterinarian N. S. Manoharan for further investigation.

Mr Bharathi said the fact that the animal was burnt aroused suspicion. “We are still investigating whether it is a tusker or a cow elephant.” When asked whether the animal was burnt by poachers or the field staff themselves to hide the incident, Mr Bharathi said the investigation would cover this aspect also.

A. Rangarajan, General Secretary of Tamil Nadu Green Movement, an NGO involved in forest protection and wildlife conservation, said the organisation learnt that on seeing the dead animal in the sanctuary, the field staff allegedly burnt the carcass to hide the incident before the information reached the media or officials. It is inferred that they were also apprehensive of action from the higher authorities, he said.

Wildlife enthusiasts in Theni district said five villages – Kamayagoundan Patti, Narayana Thevan Patti, Surulippatti, Kullappa Goundan Patti and Karunakkamuthan Patti - near the sanctuary area notorious villages known for indulging in poaching activities, particularly spotted deer and wild boar. In some of the villages, the locals have even put up shops to sell venison and boar meet. Activists said that the sanctuary was declared three years ago. This news was a morale booster for the enthusiasts as it would bring in more officials and increased vigilance, resulting in decline in poaching incidents.

A separate officer has been posted as wildlife warden for the new sanctuary but the poaching continued unabated. Lack of stringent action against the poachers had given them courage resulting in increasing poaching incidents, they charged.

Mr Rangarajan said:

“The burning of the carcass was unacceptable as it is obstruction of the transparency needed to establish wildlife poaching patterns and investigation of criminals. Theni is becoming the wildlife crime capital of Tamil Nadu, with reports of poaching surfacing very frequently. We request that this downward slide be arrested immediately. ’’