" Trees are Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

The Poaching Game

Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary and Cub magazines visited the Churna Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh to survey areas where additional protection might give the tiger an extra lease on life.

We followed her pugmarks on foot for over a kilometre through dusty paths and damp rivulets. The trail suggested that her two cubs, despite a myriad distractions, never drifted more than a few metres from the protective reach of their mother. By the side of the road, obscured from view, we saw fresh droppings where the feline had stopped to defecate, scratching the earth to leave a momentary "I was here" message in the distinctive manner of tigers.

We were in the Churna Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh to survey areas where extra protection might give the tiger an extra lease on life. More than 3,650 seizures of all descriptions of wildlife, representing the mere tip of the proverbial iceberg, had been made across India in the past four years. Through a judicious mix of bowing and scraping before politicians and outright threatening (with exposure) of closed-minded officials, the Tiger Crisis Cell had managed to nudge a sluggish system from its stupor.

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Wild Life

The demand from consuming countries of furs and trophies, such as the USA, France, Italy, Germany, and the U.K., was being rivaled by that of nations such as China, Japan, Thailand, Korea, and Vietnam where tiger bones, bear gall bladders and rhino horns are routinely prescribed to meet with all kinds of ailments, largely geared to prop up the flagging manhood of vulnerable men. We hoped to motivate officialdom to exercise its power to stop the killing game.


India has always been a soft target for these marauders. From the poacher's point of view the institutionalised corruption and red tape of India always presented ideal conditions in which to make a killing (pun intended). Spurred on by the promise of big-time rewards, poachers used the system ruthlessly. Apart from our ports, airports and unofficial open borders, even our post offices are used to despatch ivory from Cochin to Bombay! From Bombay, consignments are sent directly overseas via the foreign post office. It is common knowledge that several Police and Forest officers are among known offenders, yet the system will not weed them out, leave alone punish them. That a member of the controversial Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was caught red-handed while conspiring to help poachers reveals just how deep the rot has gone.

A hurtful dilemma confronts those of us who still possess the strength to search for and defend obscure wildernesses across the length and breadth of the nation. Should we savour what remains... or mourn the passage of what we see being lost? And how are we to convince a nation of dollar-seekers that wildlife has an intrinsic worth? That the tiger is the very soul of the Indian subcontinent? That the jungle has been and always will remain the inspiration for our civilisation? And that without the forest, the economic backbone of our nation would crack... to the harsh accompaniment of drought, soil sterility, starvation and disease.


Everywhere, from Kashmir to the Andaman Isles and Kutchh to Arunachal Pradesh, protection forces are hopelessly ill-equipped. Their vehicles are run down and the staff ill-equipped and demoralised. By contrast, internationally connected poaching gangs use the latest four-wheel drives, automatic weapons, powerful wireless sets... and have access to powerful politicians. How can forest staff patrolling their turf on foot, lathis in hand, be expected to risk life and limb under such circumstances? Some NGOs have come together to form Tiger Link, a forum of like-minded individuals and organisations who have decided that the tiger and its associated wildlife must be defended now... with or without government help. Jeeps, powerboats, wireless equipment, shoes, sweaters and even food for riding elephants are now being directly channelled to the weak links in the field.

A conservative estimate places the overseas value of the wildlife butchered and sold from our shores at over five billion dollars. This is second only to the illegal trade in arms and drugs. For less money than this our honourable politicians and bureaucrats have been routinely prostituting our national interest before institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. Yet the loss of our natural heritage does not move them. Looking back over the past two decades, it seems clear that after the late Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, wild animals and their habitats have meant little to successive Indian Prime Ministers. Caught in a web of dollars and cents, they have squandered a fabled heritage. Today turtles are dying at Gahirmata, chinkaras and houbara bustards are being wiped out by cement factories in Kutchh and poachers have infiltrated the highest echelons of political power. Has the annihilation of India's wildlife now become accepted as an intrinsic part of our new economic policy?


Those readers who would like to get involved in our fight to save the tiger can write to:
Tiger Link, c/o Sanctuary Asia,
602 Maker Chambers V,
Nariman Point,
Mumbai 400 021.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.