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Survived Maoists,but tigers could fall prey to tribals

Tigers in the country’s largest sanctuary — Srisailam Tiger Reserve — survived the Maoists who encroached and ruled the Nallamala forests...

Tigers in the country’s largest sanctuary — Srisailam Tiger Reserve — survived the Maoists who encroached and ruled the Nallamala forests for several years but may now fall prey to a tribal community that has just now learnt how valuable a dead tiger is.

In the last week of May,a tigress was snared by two hunters on the periphery of the Srisailam Tiger Reserve in the Nandiyal Forest Division in Kurnool district. Forest officials,who came to know of it three days later and kept it under wraps,are dismissing the incident as a stray case but admit that the hunters were trying to sell the skin and nails when they were nabbed.

Deputy Conservator of Forests,Nandiyal Forest Division,K Narasimahalu,says that the full-grown tigress may have accidentally walked into the trap. “Two hunters of the local Chenchu tribe had set a trap probably for a wild boar or a spotted deer. We assume that the tigress walked into it. Her neck got snared and she died. We have arrested both the culprits and they say that they did not intend to hunt a tiger and initially had no idea that its skin,nails and bones were valuable. We had received a tip-off that both of them had contacted another person and were trying to sell the skin for Rs 10,000 through him. They had hidden the skin and nails behind a small church after giving it a crude preservation treatment using loads of salt. We believe that it was not an intentional killing but once they had a dead tiger,they thought of making the most of it,” said Narasimahalu.

The Chenchu tribe is settled along the sanctuary — which is spread across five districts — and are dependent on forest produce. Officials fear that now that tribal hunters know the value of tiger skin and other body parts,it might trigger poaching in the sanctuary. This is what caused a serious drop in tiger populations in Corbett National Park and other reserves. “This was not a rudimentary trap to snare a wild boar or a deer. It crushed the tiger’s neck causing it to die almost instantly,” an official of the inquiry team said.

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Spread over 3,568 square km of contiguous Nallamala forest,the sanctuary was till now a safe haven for tigers. The reserve’s Field Director Ajay Kumar Naik says the incident is cause for concern. “Due to the size of the sanctuary,the tigers managed to stay to away from human contact,even when Maoists cadres used it as a training and hiding place,thus averting any man-animal conflict situations. There are 70 to 80 tigers in the sanctuary now. In fact,they not only not only survived but made a comeback although for nearly a decade Maoists ruled this forest. Until two years ago,it was dangerous for forest officials to venture into the sanctuary even for basic patrolling. There was always the fear of encountering Maoists rather than tigers. But,the population has increased from 20 to 30 a decade back to 70 or 80 now. The insurgents have been driven out of the forests and now we are able to track and keep watch on the big cats. The prey base consisting of wild boar,spotted deer,nilgai and sambhar has also increased. For now the tigers are safe,” Naik says.

“But tigers require large territories and they frequently go out of the sanctuary limits into the neighbouring forest and protected areas. The death of this one tigress,probably when it was moving from the sanctuary to the forest area on the outside,is reason for alarm,” Naik adds.

To check the threat,the Forest Department has decided to warn the tribals against poaching in addition to involving them in conservation efforts.

First published on: 27-07-2009 at 23:03 IST
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