GUWAHATI, January 5: Even though rhinos have been traditionally vulnerable to poachers in Assam, wildlife crime experts have said that poaching of tigers is also emerging as a major challenge to contend with in the state.
However, tiger poachers adopt more insidious ways which often makes it challenging for the forest officials to know about the crimes until much later, they added.
“Tiger poaching is virtually an invisible kind of crime. Rhino poachers take the animal’s horns and leave behind the carcass. But since tiger poachers make off with the entire animal, they do not leave behind any trace,” said Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, who is the secretary general of Aarayank, a biodiversity organization.
“So, in forest areas where the monitoring is weak, tigers are most vulnerable to poachers. It is only when seizures are made that we come to know that a tiger was poached. Otherwise, we don’t get any information,” he added.
Talukdar further said that poachers are always on the prowl to hunt for tigers in less protected forests making the big cat more vulnerable in those areas.
When seven poachers were recently arrested from the Kaziranga National Park, they admitted that they had fortuitously managed to ensnare a tiger and their trap was laid to catch deer and wild boar. But their version was taken with a pinch of salt by both the park officials and wildlife crime experts.
“We are sure that the poachers’ story of accidentally ensnaring a tiger is not true. We believe tigers are being poached in a systematic manner in Karbi Anglong. We have vital inputs on details of middlemen who are involved in smuggling body parts of tigers. However, our investigation is at an important stage and we are not in a position to divulge any further information,” a senior park official told TOI.
The seven poachers, who were arrested on their way to Nagaon, had a tiger skin and about 5 kg of tiger bones in their possession. The poachers admitted that they had killed a tiger in the Kurjat area of Karbi Anglong district recently and they wanted to sell off its body parts to smugglers.
Forests in Karbi Anglong form a contiguous landscape with Kaziranga on the southern part of the park.
Animals, including tigers, move to and fro between Kaziranga and these adjoining forests. Since the Kaziranga National Park is also a tiger reserve, the National Tiger Conservation Authority included for the first time last year these forests in Karbi Anglong in the All India Tiger Estimation exercise to ascertain the presence of tigers there.
Wildlife crime experts said given the soaring demand for tiger body parts, especially in neighbouring China, tigers are most vulnerable to poaching in areas where protection mechanisms are relatively weak. The big cat becomes more susceptible once it strays off its beaten path, they added.
In June 2010, the customs department seized 11 kg of tiger bones at Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati. This was one of the biggest seizures of the big cat’s body parts in the last ten years (TNN)