Confessions of a tiger poacher – Part I

Jose Louies, Head of Enforcement for the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), reveals the amazing story of how six notorious tiger poachers were caught and convicted in a joint operation with BTR Tiger Reserve, thanks to funding by Care for the Wild’s supporters.

“Another ten minutes.” says tiger hunter Dale Singh, as he accompanies our Care for the Wild informer network team in India.  We are inside the Biligiriranga Swamy Temple wildlife sanctuary and Dale is leading us to his tiger traps. We must remove them before they are activated by a tiger or leopard. Unfortunately, this also means we are quite literally, walking into the tiger’s den.

Despite the area being well known for its tiger, leopards and elephants, it is shocking to think that poaching activities are taking place almost undetected so close to towns and villages. Unfortunately we have had to step up our efforts to meet the increasing demand seen throughout India. Dale’s four member poaching gang was detained by the forest department just a few hours earlier so we are wasting no time bringing him back to the site in the hope of saving tigers from the jaws of his traps.

In Disguise

The poachers are just a handful of traditional tiger hunters whose work feeds the illegal tiger trade throughout India and beyond. They move around disguised as street vendors, setting up camps near tiger reserves. The group identify prime tiger habitats using their excellent tracking skills and set up their deadly traps, often waiting just a few days inside the forest for their prize. Once a tiger is trapped, the poachers will kill it and remove the skin. The body is buried within the forest so the bones can be recovered safely a few days later.

Dale leads us to a dry riverbed and after scanning the bank points out two large boulders which formed the basis of their camp. There are no immediate signs of a camp and the area could easily have been overlooked by rangers on patrol. It is only as we draw closer that the remains of a fire and some rubbish suggest that anyone had been there. Sitting on the ground, Dale removes some dry leaves covering an opening beneath one of the boulders and pulls out cooking utensils and food. We decide the abandoned camp is a good place for a break as we have been walking in the heat for some hours. I am amazed at how calm he is and try to get him to open up about his dangerous and illegal occupation, hoping it will help our team understand how poachers think.

“It is just bad luck we were caught, otherwise we would have been back and collected what we came for”, he smiles as he smokes a cigarette. His statement is matter of fact and I realised that this is someone who is used to securing their prize. Dale tells me he is part of the bawaria tribe from Kalka, Haryana. He has trapped a few animals in the past in Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. This is his first trip poaching in southern India and he has never been caught in the past with an animal article in his possession.

Go to Part Two

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