We lost a beautiful Tigress in Bandhavgarh and the double tragedy is that she has three lovely Cubs, which are about 4-5 months old..so we have effectively lost 4 wild Tigers!! So who is to be blamed for this tragedy and will the real culprits be ever found?!
The Jhurjhura Tigress (also known as Rajbehera Tigress, whose photos and story is in my blog as an earlier entry). These photos were taken by one of our Guests, Dr.Muffi..and could be one of the last of the Cubs in the wild.
Two of her three Cubs..cannot imagine their fate now! As we speak they are being fed by goat meat..but they are certain to end up in a Zoo soon.
I am currently in Bandhavgarh since two weeks and i could gather the following story from various sources; but first the sequence of events on the fateful morning of 19th May, when the Tigress died:
1. A vehicle from a Lodge, driven by one of the most mild-mannered and liked Naturalists in the Park, saw the Tigress at the Jhurjhura waterhole at about 6.10 am..and she charged at them! She looked injured..and the Naturalist promptly reported that to the Park authorities. In fact, i met him and his frightened guests and he told me about the encounter and asked us to avoid that area.
2. The area was promptly closed and the Park authorities went to investigate; they also got charged by the engraged Tigress and driver in his fright or whatever hit the Tigress while reversing the vehicle..the evidence is clear on the ground by a damaged machan and also the vehicle was damaged in several places.
3. When they approached the area again later..they found the Tigress dead.The time was 9.20 am.
What could have happened? Why was the Tigress charging at any vehicle? The post-mortem conducted on her the next morning revealed that the death was caused by injuries sustained 6-7 hours back..that means at around 2-3 am in the wee hours of the morning. No other vehicle can possibly enter the Park but a Forest Department (FD) vehicle. So it is clear that a speeding FD vehicle hit the Tiger and whoever did that hushed up the matter. No wonder the Tigress was aggressive and charging at any vehicle on sight. In fact, this particular Tigress is known for it's extremely non-agressive nature in the whole Park.
As expected, the blame game started..the Park officials caught hold of the last tourists who reported the incident in the first place..they wanted them to implicate the Naturalist-driver..the very man who probably saved their life by showing presence of mind and driving away! The officers intention was clear..they wanted to find a scape-goat! They harrased every other vehicle on that route..summoned them to the Park office in Umaria (30 kms away) repeatedly. But fortunately the Park Director is a upright and a strict officer..he smelt a rat..and on the 25th May ordered the suspension of 3 officers and ordered an independent enquiry. Let's hope the truth will come out.
I cannot believe that when the whole Nation is so worried about the dwindling numbers of this magnificent Big Cat, some officers who are responsible for it's very protection..in one of India's best known Tiger Reserves..can be so callous! We, all the wildlife lovers, have to put immense pressure on the powers-to-be to catch hold of the guilty and give them exemplary punishment. There are rumours that a minister's son was taken inside the Park for a night drive..whatever the truth is and whatever it takes to bring it out..we have to act together and make an example out of this case. The culprits have to charged with the murder of four Tigers...and given the highest possible punishment.
The Forest Department should be forced to pull up it's socks. It is a department, at least at the Park level, with a almost feudal mind-set and works in a way which is not accountable and does fit into to rest of the democratic system. I have observed it closely for nearly 20 years now! For instance, in Kanha, we never see a FD vehicle drive slowly in the Park! They race down at 60-80 kmph and at the same time regularly penalise tourist vehicles which are supposed to be driving at 20 kmph for over-speeding! On several occasions, they 'banned' tourist vehicles without even hearing the other side of any incident..totally against the principles of 'natural justice'. Once, in Pench, i was driving a Range Officer and some researchers..he reprimanded me why i was driving like a 'tourist vehicle'! He meant i was driving too slow!!
I dread to think that we are entrusting them with the protection of our Tigers and Parks!
Another very alarming issue we need to address immediately is about the so called VIP's in the Park. These govt officers make a mockery of the Park rules.Their vehicles do not follow any Park rules of timings, speed and routes. They flout all these rules right in front of the bonafide international and national tourists who have paid full fees and have every right to enjoy the Park. For instance, after the tragic death of the Jhurjhura Tigress, the area where her Cubs were found is prohibited for any regular visitor..in fact, half the Park is closed for them. But the 'VIP' vehicles are merrily going into this area with families in tow, making such a mockery of the great pre-cautions taken by the Park authorities.
These issues only reflect the mind-set of the Forest Department..specially at the ground-level..where all the protection takes place. Can we trust these officers to be committed, self-disciplined and motivated enough to protect our Tigers and wildlife? I doubt it very much...
Let us all get together and mount pressure on the authorities both in Bhopal and Delhi to move swiftly in this case, investigate thoroughly and nail the guilty. They should be given the harshest punishment possible under the Wildlife Protection Act and this should be highlighted as a test case..that the Nation will not tolerate any harm done to it's Tigers. Please write in your comments and i will bring this to the attention of the Chief Wildlife Warden, M.P and other higher officials in Delhi.