Friday, April 17, 2009

The Death of a Goan Tiger

Dear Readers,

I’m upset by an incident that came to my notice just a few days ago. It was just a few hours into Easter Sunday when I received a normal looking email into my inbox. It was a notification, asking if this mail could be sent out to the rest of the 375+ members subscribed to the WildGoa online forum. Opening the mail, I was shocked to see a grim picture of a dead tiger found in a forest in Keri, Sattari. This sadly was the only recent photographic proof that tigers did exist in Goa.

It was an odd hour, and as I sent it on to the rest of the members, I felt uneasy. A lot of thoughts came to my mind. That night, I recalled my participation in the wild animal census of 2002. Soon after an orientation course at Cotigao, I was selected to volunteer in the forests of Netravali, in Sanguem. Two other volunteers, Shrinivas Narayan, Shubhir and I made our way to the forest office in Sanguem. There we were introduced to the RFO, a Mr. Mashelkar. Mr. Mashelkar came across as a friendly person, and during an evening chat, mentioned that his ancestors had shot tigers. Apparently in those days it was considered something to boast about. Mr. Mashelkar even went on to bring out an old faded picture of a crowd of people standing behind a huge tiger that had been shot down. That, was the first Goan tiger that I saw.. dead. And now, this was the second… dead too. It’s a pity as we need to prove that Goa has tigers in its forests which give more reasons to ensure proper protection of Goa’s forest areas.

Back in those census days, for an entire week, we’d walk on transact lines through deep forests noting every animal, animal trace, and animal dung we saw. Netravali was full of wildlife. On the very first day we saw quite a lot of wildlife, however, what we also saw was plenty of illegalities. Open cast mines operating by the dozen, right in the middle of a forest sanctuary, small animals poached by miners, sections of the forest cut down for firewood. Months later I learnt later that Mr. Mashelkar was caught in a corruption case involving felling of forest trees.

There have been quite a few instances in Goa where the Forest Department has been blamed for allowing such things to happen, however in most of the cases, the blame cant really be put on the staff working there are helpless. Most illegalities occur with the knowledge of the higher up staff. If there are no proper directions coming from the top, then one can’t expect the ground staff to do much.

What makes this tiger death so disturbing is that while this picture surfaced up only a few days ago, it was actually photographed on a mobile phone in February 2009, when the tiger was killed. Why did it take so long to get out? From recent discussions on and off the WildGoa network, I’ve learnt that a lot of wildlifers, perhaps also including top forest officials in Goa knew about the Tiger’s death way back in February but it appears that the Forest Department tried to keep the matter silent. Why?

It’s really strange that the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) in a recent interview to the press makes it appear that the Forest Department was totally unaware of the Tiger’s death until the picture surfaced. It appears that the Forest Department chose to avoid a proper investigation and ignore the issue so that they could cover up their inefficiencies of improper forest patrols.

If one studies the picture carefully, it might be possible that the tiger was killed accidentally. By the nature of the wound on its rear, it is likely that it unfortunately stepped into a wire trap set for another animal, possibly a wild boar. Traps set this way have been used all over Goa for years now, and the Forest Department has done little to reduce this menace. On the 26th of February 2009, Fiona, a member of the WildGoa network found a total of three such traps after one of her dogs accidentally got caught in one. After photographing them as evidence, she got them destroyed to prevent them from causing more harm.

Tiger populations in India have shrunk and continue to fall at an alarming rate. This death, therefore, is very significant and a proper investigation needs to be conducted and systems are put in place to make sure that this does not happen once again.

Clinton Vaz, 28 lives in Benaulim and works on environment and wildlife issues in Goa. He can be contacted at or +91 9890936828 This article appeared in the Goan Local Daily Gomantak Times on Friday, 17th April 2009 Pg. 12

1 comment:

StrayAssist said...

Hi Clinton,

Good write up on the sad tiger events. I am sure you hit the nail on the head with your observations.

Just for the record, after finding the first three traps we found nine more :-(. We destroyed all and they have not been renewed but I guess the culprits have moved elsewhere.

Publicity and the(seemingly) tireless efforts by people like you is our only hope to improve matters.

Keep up the good work!

Kind regards,