Big cats in some of India’s most well-known tiger reserves are under threat. Around 20 tigers are believed to have died in tiger reserves ranging from Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand and Tadoba in Maharashtra to Bandipur in Karnataka — indicating an increase in poaching activity.
The remains of a poached animal, which wildlife activists claim was a tiger, was found in Corbett last week. Forest department officials, however, deny their contention, stating that the animal was either a porcupine or a jackal. Nevertheless, the mystery behind the incident lay in the fact that a prayer ceremony was performed at the site before the killing.
This was confirmed when forest officials found clothes, an empty box of sweets and ash at the Bijrani range site, deep inside Corbett. Denotified tribes such as Bawarias usually conduct pujas before sacrificing wild animals.
“What they left behind was a portion of the small intestine as an offering to the deity. The tiger was skinned, and most of its body parts were taken away,” said Anil Baluni, former chairperson of state environment and forest advisory committee.
Ranjan Mishra, director of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, denied the claim. “There is a huge difference in the small intestine of tigers and other animals. We are sure that this animal was not a tiger. We have sent the body part for further analysis,” he said.
Meanwhile, a red alert has been issued and unpaid forest guards have been placed on round-the-clock patrolling. "We don`t have funds, not even to buy fuel for patrol vehicles," a senior official said.
As per the 2010 tiger estimation, Corbett landscape had 214 tigers — the highest in the world. However, the open landscape of Corbett provides easy access to poachers, whose activities have intensified recently.
About 2,000 km south-west, the Tadoba tiger reserve is facing a similar threat. Wildlife activists have reported the death of around eight tigers in the last few months.
The silver lining, however, comes from the fact that Maharashtra has witnessed a 30% jump in tiger population over the last few years.