The arrest of four poachers hailing from Orissa in the Palar range on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border and one from Bandipur National Park recently has put the Forest Department and wildlife activists on alert. Snare traps, which the poachers planned to lay in the dense jungle to trap the big cats, were seized from them.
The threat against wildlife has increased in recent years as Karnataka has a population of about 300 tigers, of which 200 are in Bandipur and Nagarhole national parks alone. There are more than 38 tigers in Biligiri Ranaganathaswamy Wildlife Sanctuary apart from 4,000 elephants, chital, sambhars, chousinghas, gaurs, wild pigs, leopards and dhole in a 1,500 sqkm area.
The Male Mahadeshwara forest range across the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border was brought under the Cauvery Wild Life Sanctuary and it has since become a target for poachers as all the four assailants were arrested from Palar.
Four other poachers managed to escape, which poses a major challenge to the forest departments in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
According to sources, the four Shobhapura villagers, from Orissa, had entered and surveyed M M Hills forest range after which they had laid a series of snares in Nale Gadde, 30 metres from the banks of the Cauvery near Palar. Forest Department officials are in touch with officials of the wildlife crime control bureau records, to know the history of some of the arrested people and the cases against them in other States.
The accused had also dug a small pit, kept food and covered it with foliage to trap animals. Forest officials, acting on a tip, seized salt and turmeric powder from the poachers. These items would be used to preserve the skin of the animals after poaching.
Sources said investigative agencies are also looking into the possibility of local brick factory owners employing them and giving them the additional assignment of poaching.
Members of the Tamil Nadu Wildlife Board visited the spot and took stock of the situation.
Meanwhile, the Forest Department has arrested a woman from Rajasthan in Bandipur National Park and are investigating her links with the poaching mafia. Authorities were alerted about the movement of a gang from Rajasthan towards South India for poaching and were hence vigilant of suspicious activities. The Forest Department, despite facing a shortage of staff, has stepped up combing operations, and are in touch with informants for intelligence on poachers.
Palar range is in need of more policing due to its big tiger and elephant populations, said sources.
Wildlife activist Mallesh said the wide publicity of increased tiger population had attracted poachers towards South India.
He said the government should gear up to meet the challenge, employ necessary staff and provide them advanced training to take on the organised gangs, which cater to the international market for wildlife products.
Assistant principal chief conservator of forests Srinivasan confirmed the arrest of the poachers and said the wildlife crime team was investigating the case. He said the rise in population and sighting of tigers in fringe and nearby hamlets might have also attracted poachers. Though, it was a challenge to keep poachers at bay, he said the department is continuing combing operations. Anti-poaching camps have been set up across the park, he added.