Bullet killed tusker

Poaching whiff at Palamau reserve, elephant toll 9 this year

By A.S.R.P. Mukesh in Ranchi
  • Published 14.10.17
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An earthmover is used to retrieve the adult male elephant’s carcass from a watering hole at Betla range of Palamau Tiger Reserve on Friday. Telegraph picture

Ranchi, Oct. 13: The 40-year-old tusker found dead at Palamau Tiger Reserve yesterday was shot from close range, a post-mortem confirmed today, the evidence strongly suggesting a poaching attempt that foresters refused to admit.

Contrary to yesterday's official denial of any bullet wound on the carcass found submerged in a watering hole in PTR's core area, vet Dr Chandan Govind Deo who performed the autopsy said one bullet had pierced the back of the animal's right ear and hit the brain.

"The shooting took place from close range," Dr Deo said. "We did not find any evidence of any attempt to sever the tusk, unlike what many people are hinting," he added, implying that the theory of poaching for ivory was baseless.

Agreed Betla range officer Nathuni Singh, under whose jurisdiction the casualty has happened. "Prima facie, it appears to be retaliatory killing as the elephant was destroying crops. Villager Bunsidhar Khalkho, arrested yesterday, has confessed to the crime and named three-four others as co-conspirators," Singh said over phone.

But, a vet who did not want to be named, said he wasn't so sure. "The place where the bullet hit is the temporal bone area, a highly sensitive zone in elephants," he said. "It looks like the job of a professional shooter. Even if a villager has a firearm, it is doubtful that he has specialised knowledge. If he does, poaching can't be ruled out, as an elephant can be shot and its carcass hidden for its tusk to be severed later on."

Cabinet minister Saryu Roy, who is known to be a wildlife enthusiast and happens to be the minister in-charge of Latehar and Palamau, parts of both districts falling under PTR, sounded furious.

"The reserve is going through its worst phase ever. I will write to the government, demanding an exhaustive audit of the reserve through CAG to find out where the money allocated for years for wildlife conservation disappeared," the minister said.

"Recently, during three meetings in Latehar, I discovered major violations of rules and regulations at PTR and wrote twice to forest secretary (Indu Shekhar Chaturvedi), but the bureaucrat didn't even acknowledge my letters," he added.

Roy is not off the mark. According to the 2017 Elephant Census, PTR has 186 elephants, down from 238 in 2012. Seventeen elephants died in the Palamau reserve in three years, nine this year alone. Two elephants died of anthrax in quick succession this summer in May-June and another in September in a landmine blast.

An Indian Forest Services officer in Ranchi said be it poaching or anthrax, preventive measures were few and far between. "What has principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) L.R. Singh done in view of nine elephant deaths in 10 months? In none of the cases did he inspect the spot to take stock of the situation," he said.

Asked why he chose not to, PCCF (wildlife) Singh insisted that his going to the spot after a mishap would only have led to unwanted hassles. "Reserve officials are already there. I will go later. I have visited the reserve for a review," he said.

Former director of PTR, who also earlier served in National Tiger Conservation Authority committee, P.K. Sen admitted to poaching. "Can't say poaching doesn't take place (in PTR)," he said. Present PTR director M.P. Singh didn't take this reporter's calls.

Wildlife expert D.S. Srivastava dubbed all elephant deaths as testimony to mismanagement.

"Reasons may vary, but nine elephant deaths in a year is an example of worst management," Srivastava said. "The biggest problem as I see it is that officials don't want to empower eco development committees (formed by villagers). There are 160 such committees that can protect animals provided they get timely financial assistance. But, they have to go to forest office to beg for funds. Naturally, they don't take interest in saving forests or wildlife," he added.