Ranchi, Feb. 15: Palamau’s dwindling big cats are under big threat.
Hunters from Madhya Pradesh’s infamous Bahelia and Pardhi tribes have taken advantage of Jharkhand’s porous borders to reach the tiger reserve in Betla, prompting wildlife guardians to press the alarm.
The state’s lone tiger habitat has been put on high alert since yesterday after Panna Tiger Reserve’s field director R.S. Murthy intimated his Palamau Tiger Reserve (PTR) counterpart S.H. Kazmi about the concerning development over phone a day ago.
Sources maintained that search operations had been launched across the length and breadth of the reserve from today. PTR officials maintained that if need arose, they might seek help from security forces.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Kazmi confirmed the SOS. “It is true that we have been alerted about Bahelia-Pardhi tribes. Our reserve is huge and their location isn’t known yet. But, we have intensified patrolling,” he said.
Bahelias and Pardhis are nomadic hunters. They mostly inhabit Panna and Katni villages in the tiger reserve in MP’s Chhatarpur district and have well-evidenced history of poaching wild animals, especially tigers, leopards and elephants.
On January 29, two tribal poachers were arrested in the Panna Tiger Reserve with a cache of countrymade arms and ammunition. Animal trophies such as skin, mane and meat were also found in their possession.
The arrest was not a stray incident. In the past couple of months, the anti-poaching squad of the tiger reserve in MP has made three to four rounds of arrests, and seized hunting gear and even live baits.
“The Bahelia-Pardhi tribals are notorious for using both traditional and modern techniques (bombs and wires) to trap wild animals. They are quite skilled hunters I must say,” said a well-placed PTR official on his way to morning patrol.
Panna once roared with the royal presence of a large number of big cats. But, tribal hunters took a heavy toll on the reserve. Recently, wildlife officials in MP released a feline couple in Panna to boost its big cat population.
“All this while the reserve also developed multilevel intelligence units under its field director to curb poaching and wildlife trade. The anti-poaching cell alerted us about tribal hunters sneaking into our territory. This has been confirmed by other agencies,” the PTR official said.
Panna is not the only killing field. The nomadic Bahelias and Pardhis keep moving from one reserve to another using unmanned forest corridors. “Late last year, a wildlife trade racket was busted in Maharashtra, where their involvement was reported,” said a PTR official.
Forest officials suspect that the hunters took a Chhattisgarh-Garhwa-Palamau corridor to enter the reserve. “They may have come from Sarguja in Chhattisgarh via Garhwa-Bhandaria route or from Mahuadanr-Kusmi region. Some of these areas are almost inaccessible,” said a forester.
Although there are no official records, Palamau did see poaching activities in the past decade. However, it is for the first time that these hunters are known to have entered the reserve.
According to the last census, the reserve had six tigers. Two weeks ago, Garu range cameras photographed tigers twice. Officials are not sure whether it was one animal or two. Pug marks were also found on Thursday. The location is being kept under wraps for security reasons, but officials said 16-17 pug marks of the same animal were found during patrolling. “We are not sure if the tiger has migrated from Chhattisgarh. We hope it is one of ours. It is a young male,” an official said.
Casual workers at the reserve also reported hearing roars in recent times. “In fact, last month on Mandal-Barwadih Road, I saw a flash of stripes. It was a brief but majestic sight,” said a worker.
The 24x7 cameras at PTR have also captured animals like leopards and cheetals at regular intervals. They are in danger too, if patrol teams fail to round up poachers.