The felling of 11 teak trees, all below the girth of 90 centimetres, by a gang with the assistance of an anti-poaching watcher inside the Kalakkad–Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) has shocked the forest officials here. After felling the trees, the gang had moved the timber from the sanctuary in a lorry under the guise of devotees visiting the Sorimuthu Ayyanar Temple.
Following a tip-off, a team of KMTR officials recently inspected Koduppai Kal Odai and Thailaathu Odai in the Koviltheri beat and confirmed that 11 trees had been axed. Subsequent investigation revealed that it was the handiwork of anti-poaching watcher Murugan and five others — Ranjit of Kaani Kudiyiruppu and Solomon, Prabhakaran, Thangasamy and Ananth, all from Agasthiyarpuram near Papanasam.
When all the six were arrested and grilled, they reportedly confessed that they had sold the timber to a Puducherry-based trader from whom eight of the illegally felled teak poles were seized. KMTR personnel recovered the remaining three poles from a temple inside the sanctuary on Monday.
What has shocked the officials is that the timber-laden truck had crossed two check-posts — first one at Mundanthurai and the second check-post at Papanasam — to reach its destination.
“Whenever the forest personnel at the check-post look into the belongings of the devotees going to Sorimuthu Ayyanar Temple and inspect the vehicle, they get abused. Only a very few cooperate with us. When the truck under question was stopped at the first check-post at Mundanthurai, one of our anti-poaching watchers was in the vehicle along with others, all posing as devotees. So the personnel at the check-post did not suspect anything fishy and allowed the truck to go,” a senior KMTR official told The Hindu .
He denied the allegation that the six-member gang, which was arrested in connection with the felling of eight trees, had come out on bail to cut down three more trees. “All 11 trees were cut down in the first incident itself and we’ve recovered all the felled teak poles and arrested all the culprits involved in the crime,” he said.
Now, the KMTR officials have decided to thoroughly check all the vehicles going inside the sanctuary or to the temple and returning to the base.