Friday, May 29, 2009

Black Majik and Disappearing Tigers

The Tiger Killing should not be forgotten, and those that are guilty need to be punished as this incident is linked to a number of human versus animal conflicts in Goa says Clinton Vaz

On a late Monday evening, I sat down with some friends at a Panjim cafe to unwind. Coming from wildlife circles, it was but natural to talk about recent wildlife activities, such as the Frog Campaign that is underway, however, we soon started to talk about the tiger that was killed in Keri recently.

Goa might have now acquired a reputation for mysterious and unsolved murder cases with the Scarlet, Mahaanand and Russian cases; however, it's not the police investigating the tiger murder, but the Goa Forest Department. And from what I’ve followed in the press, the investigating team is working in the right direction, having detained 4 people already. But let's not focus on the Forest Department as they need to investigate on their own. What about the village that was involved? What about the tiger?

There are many wrongs that have to be righted. It now appears that human versus animal conflicts are becoming more common in the hinterland of Goa. An increasing population over the years, destruction of forested areas for the purpose of planting orchards and plantations are already causing habitat reduction to the wild animals in the state. Making matters worse for predating wild animals, is the illegal poaching that goes on rampantly on the fringes of Goa's forests. Poaching of prey-base animals like the barking deer and sambar have only worsened the human versus animal conflicts. Take just this current month of May as an example:

On the 7th of May, wild elephants strayed into the villages of Vadaval and Amthane in Bicholim, destroying cashew plantations and paddy fields. The very next day, the 8th of May, two wild elephants destroyed farm and plantation property in another village, Alorna. Then on 12th of May, a Vasco based doctor came in close contact with a 4-foot leopard that grazed his vehicle as it strayed across the airport highway. On the 14th of May, a Malabar Giant Squirrel that was injured by a gun shot strayed into a plantation in Soliye hamlet at Honda- Sattari. The animal was rescued and rehabilitated by the Animal Rescue Squad (ARS). However, the most shocking incident occurred on 19th of May, when Uday Devgo a 40 year of resident of Dhave in Sattari was attacked by a Spotted Leopard as he got out of his home to rescue his dog being attacked by the same leopard. There probably were many more human-animal conflicts that were not reported in the press as well.

While driving out the elephants and trapping and translocation of the big cats offer temporary solutions, the long term solution to prevent such instances is to have a healthy forest, with enough prey-base for the animals not to stay out in hunger and desperation. At one such recent human-animal conflict site, Amrut Singh from the ARS appealed to the villagers that trapping the troublesome Leopard was no solution. Instead, he suggested, stop the killings of prey-base animals like the Sambar Deer, Mouse Deer, Wild Boar, etc. that are now routine happenings in Goa’s hinterland.

Many people residing in the villages that dot fringes of forest sanctuaries routinely set traps and hunt animals with illegal guns. The possession of illegal firearms for the purpose of hunting is rampant in the hinterland of Goa. Something needs to be done about this. However, most of the animals caught are not shot, but trapped instead. Using snares such as wire traps, they ensure that the animal is kept alive until the hunter arrives at the trap site (to keep the meat fresh).

I have also heard of trappers that are so cold blooded that once they have confirmed that they have an animal caught in their traps, they break the legs of the live animal to immobilize it and then go into town looking for orders for the meat. Once getting orders, and taking an advance, they return to slaughter the animal, making sure it's alive till the last bit to ensure the meat is fresh. This just shows how some of us have degenerated into cruel beings with a complete disregard for life.

Getting back to the tiger killing, facts are also established that the tiger killed was killed in Sattari, Goa and not Dandeli in Karnataka as claimed earlier. It now appears that these tiger was grievously injured after accidentally stepping into a wire trap laid by the villagers for a deer. As the tiger was of no use to the villagers, it was then shot in cold blood with many eyewitnesses, one who actually photographed the incident. Fortunately for wildlife protection enthusiasts, it was this photograph that got the skeletons tumbling out of the wardrobe.

It’s now openly known that the Majik families are the main culprits of the crime. Gopal Majik, a known poacher has been arrested before killing animals in the past. Apparently that did not dissuade him from stopping the killings. 3 others have also been arrested for active involvement in killing the tiger.

The Majik family has since then been frantic in trying to mislead and intimidate the forest department into withdrawing investigations. Evidence such as the carcass of the tiger, was hurriedly disposed at an unknown location to hide the evidence once the picture surfaced into the public domain. Similarly, other items used to record the crime have also disappeared. During interrogations, their statements keep changing, causing investigations to slow down.

Their latest ploy to get admitted into hospital appears to be a trend borrowed from Goan politicians that appear to have health problems just before they would be placed under arrest. Suryakant Majik and others that have got themselves admitted at GMC, called for a pres conference accusing the forest department staff of assaulting them. However, while they claim they have got themselves hospitalized due to injuries caused by slaps, kicks and sticks, it’s strange that the doctor’s report does not speak of any injuries on their bodies.

It’s time that people learn to respect our forests and the wild animals within. Illegal hunting of these animals has gone on without any hindrance for a long time, and now once caught; villagers appear shocked about the repercussions of their illegal activities. Perhaps education and awareness work done by wildlife activist Rajendra Kerkar and his Vivekananda Environmental Awareness Brigade (VEAB) members on the problems illegal hunting causes will help reduce their self inflicted problems.

Clinton Vaz, 28 lives in Benaulim and works on environment and wildlife issues in Goa. He can be contacted at klintvaz@gmail.com or +91 9890936828 This article appeared in the Goan Local Daily Gomantak Times on Friday, 29th April 2009

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