Poaching on forest fringes

With incidents of animals straying from protected areas ever increasing, hunters find easy targets

Updated - April 21, 2022 10:39 pm IST

Published - April 21, 2022 10:31 pm IST

Forest Department officials with the  skin of a spotted deer and hunting equipment seized from a farmhouse at Sirumugai in 2017.

Forest Department officials with the  skin of a spotted deer and hunting equipment seized from a farmhouse at Sirumugai in 2017. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Roads of IOB Colony at the foothills of Maruthamalai near Coimbatore had vehicles on the move and residents were yet to hit the beds on the night of July 4, 2021, when they heard a gunshot. Four men, who came in a car, had just shot a wild boar, one of the hundreds that roam in the locality at night.

In the consecutive searches, the Forest Department apprehended the four men, including B. Ashok Kumar, a sharp shooter, who had been arrested thrice in the past for hunting wild animals for meat.

In another incident this year, field workers arrested two of a group of five poachers from Salem who came to Mettupalayam – Sathyamangalam Road at Sirumugai in Coimbatore district in the early hours of February 28 to hunt wild animals that cross the road to enter villages for crop raiding. They carried two country-made rifles and live rounds.

With incidents of wild boar, deer and Sambar straying into private areas increasing, poachers manage to hunt them without trespassing into the protected areas.

“Forest areas fragmented by plantations in places such as Gudalur in the Nilgiris and Valparai in Coimbatore continue to be safe grounds for poaching. Animals spend more or less an equal time in plantations and protected areas and they could be hunted easily. Increasing incidents of animals straying into human habitations for water and crops also help poachers hunt animals without entering into reserve forests,” says a biologist.

Due to the spill-over of population and other factors, hundreds of wild boars, spotted deer and hare have also colonised the unused land outside forests.

“Barring some incidents of organised poaching in the past, hunting in reserve forest areas for trophy and wildlife articles is largely under control. Most of the hunting cases getting reported now involve animals that stray out of forests. They are hunted for meat which has a wide demand,” says a senior Forest Department official.

According to the official, controlling poaching in private land will be a challenge, mainly owing to manpower shortage. The same is the case with small mammals such as mongoose and a variety of birds that get killed for fur and meat in and around hundreds of waterbodies in the State that are not under the control of the Forest Department.

A 2020 study, ‘Ranger survey reveals conservation issues across protected and outside protected areas in southern India’, for which authors interviewed 79 forest range officers from 16 forest divisions in Tamil Nadu, show that multiple methods are adopted for poaching.

Wild boar, sambar, black-naped hare, spotted deer, tiger, monitor lizard, jungle fowl, elephant, barking deer, peafowl, leopard, Malabar giant squirrel and gaur, peafowl and pangolin were the commonly poached species in the protected areas and outside, says the study.

A total of 55% of the rangers, covered in the study, reported the use of snares and trained dogs for poaching, followed by guns, hand-made bombs, poisoning, nets and food baits, in protected areas. Apart from these methods, poachers used electric traps and poisoning in outside protected areas. While snares and guns were the most commonly used for poaching outside protected areas, snares and trained dogs were preferred on the fringes of protected areas, the study found.

According to wildlife offence reports shared by the Forest Department, poachers using common methods such as snares, country-made rifle and crude bomb (Avittukai) for hunting remains unabated across Tamil Nadu. The initial days of the COVID-19 lockdown, when meat stalls remained shut, witnessed a spurt in poaching.

Among major offences reported during the lockdown, a tiger and a tigress were poisoned to death in the limits of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, while a tigress was found poisoned in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in 2020. A female wild elephant, aged around 35, was gunned down by two farmer siblings near Mettupalayam in July 2020, allegedly because of crop damage.

“Poisoning could be done for a range of reasons — hunting for wildlife articles, retaliatory acts for the loss of humans or livestock or for issues such as non-payment of compensation for crop damage,” opines another biologist.

A top official of the Forest Department admitted that “data related to poaching remain poorly recorded in files”, while a few others refused to comment on the topic, stating that the Madras High Court is forming a special investigation team comprising police and forest officers from Tamil Nadu and Kerala to probe large-scale elephant poaching of which the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau informed the court in a detailed report in 2019.

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