Confessions of a tiger poacher – Part 2
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.
The investigators found out that this was Dale Singh’s first trip to South India and he had never been caught by the authorities with an animal article in his possession till date.
“I was almost caught once but managed to escape. A police man had once apprehended me at a railway station and questioned me for quite some time but couldn’t get any information out of me! They searched my belongings in vain trying to find something suspicious but of course nothing turned up. They never even bothered to check the bundles which were in the hands of the children with me. Now had they looked in there, there would have been enough ‘evidence’ to put me away for a long long time,” Dale Singh said to me.
“Kalka mata’s (a mythical Hindu goddess who rides a tiger) blessings were there with me that day. Without the goddesses hand on our head we would have never walked off unscathed.”
Our team learnt more from Dale Singh about his accomplices. Another poacher arrested alongside him was described as a ‘regular’ and had previously been arrested but escaped conviction. His wife, financed by a middleman, posted his bail and a few days later he was back with the poaching gang and was on the run from authorities.
A couple of weeks passed and the financier came to visit his family. Now he was trapped in a cycle of poaching, told to gather tiger skins and given logistical support to do so until the loaned bail money was repaid. “He agreed to it. Why wouldn’t he? He was in dire need of money anyway. None of us manage to make enough with the scrap deals that we strike for a living.”
The financier gave each of the gang 3000-4000 rupees (£30-40) for expenses, four new vicious looking leg-traps used to hunt for big cats and described an area in the south where an ample population of leopards and tigers were present. All details from the route to specific dams were described to the two professional poachers and four other members of their community that had been persuaded to join them. The poaching equipment was hidden under the clothing and cloth bundles of women and children and they boarded a train from Delhi in the north down to Karnataka state.
Prayer of the Kaika Mata
The poaching gang made it into the forest and set up ‘base camp’ in the outskirts of the dam area described by the financier, while the women and children positioned themselves in the streets of the small town begging and selling plastic flowers as a cover for the arrival of this new group.
A few days passed while the group collected provisions and observed the National Park forest guards to determine a suitable time in order to enter the forest. Every detail of the poaching operation was planned, even down to sourcing the khaki shirts of forest guards to avoid detection in the forest.
“You know before we left for the forest on the final day, we even performed a special puja (prayer) of the Kalka Mata, who protects us from the various dangers of the forest. Our people who stay back at the camp continue the daily prayers until we return to ensure that the divine protection remains with us and we’re blessed with enough booty,” Dale said with a mouthful of rice.
The illogical nature of this statement, resonated with our team – the poachers pray to the goddess Kalka Mata. Her divine vehicle in the forest is a tiger and this group call on her in order to bless a planned poaching attack on her closest forest ally. He told me how they walked right into the core area of the tiger reserve through the river bed and set up their camp under boulders, approximately 15 kilometres inside the forest.
After three days camping, they selected three spots frequented by tigers – using signs such as pug marks and scratch marks and their honed knowledge to pin point tiger locales. The plan was to set the traps in all three locations in one day to get three animals in just that much time! This way they could get out of the forest without spending much time after the first kill.
“This is where my role majorly came in. I’m known for skills as a hunter and a skinner, which is why they needed someone like me with them on the trip in the first place. All the traps were set in the three locations, a little distance from each other so that three tigers could be easily trapped. Two of them were placed on paths leading to a small water hole on top of the hill which was the only source of water in the area. The third was placed near the river bed, right next to a tree which bore witness to the assaults of a big tiger,” Singh said as he settled himself more comfortably on the ground.
There are very few lengths to which poachers won’t go to get their kill but the level of detailed planning in this case amazed the investigations team! This was a gang of unassuming men who are illiterate to boot, managing to easily travel hundreds of kilometres, into unknown territory, setting up camps inside the forest and almost succeeding in poaching three tigers! They had no guns, just a few necessities.
“Looking at the vast trove of knowledge they have on tracking tigers and leopards”, Jose wondered, “just how much of a difference these people could make if they ever chose to use it for the right side of the law and conservation?”
The final part of this story is coming soon.
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