October 1, 2014

Modus Operandi on Tiger Poaching

An amazing discussion on how tigers are poached through traps and how they should be saved – by trekking in the evenings and by foot patrolling.

Many evenings ago in a beautiful forest guest house overlooking the Totaladoh dam, I was privy to an interesting conversation between forest officials in the thick of the conflict in Pench and officials from Karnataka who do not face these threats as much.

It is all about the bahelias, said an officer. I was pretty surprised for we Indians have a general tendency to paint an entire community with one stroke based on the alleged/proven crime of a chosen few, just like the Britishers did with their criminal tribe tag. However, experts say "this poaching community members simultaneously operate at multiple locations at a given time within any region of the country. They literally kill wild animals like a portable slaughterhouse."

As per The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India--Volume I (of IV), authored byR.V. Russell, Bahelia are a caste of fowlers and hunters in northern India. In the Central Provinces the Bahelias are not to be distinguished from the Pārdhis, as they have the same set of exogamous groups named after the Rājpūt clans, and resemble them in all other respects. The word Bahelia is derived from the Sanskrit Vyādha, ‘one who pierces or wounds,’ hence a hunter. Pārdhi is derived from the Marāthī pāradh, hunting. The latter term is more commonly used in the Central Provinces, and has therefore been chosen as the title of the article on the caste.
The Bahelias from Katni are an ancient group, who have gained significant notoriety in the recent few decades, have gained a gangster status nowadays. Forest officials from MP to Tamil Nadu shudder when they hear that a Bahelia gang is in town. Simple looking, they comfortably settle among roadside open spaces. In large groups, they move around as a self sustained group. They carry bags contain traps, spears and spade.

Amongst many ways, the modus operandi remains unique. They first track which road the tiger takes – if there are 3-4 approaches to a waterhole, he will obviously take either one or two or all the approaches, but will definitely choose within the available options. They track the tiger for a few days and conveniently lay a trap after studying the behaviour of the tiger. Usually though even that is not necessary, they prefer full moon nights to study the tiger. A jaw trap is laid and the tiger is caught.

In pain, the tiger could either roar or be quiet. However, what happens next is unbelievable, I personally never thought that poaching could be so cruel, but I was being naive. After all, poaching is what it is - killing an animal in the choicest and cruelest way possible.

After the tiger is captured, he is attacked on the nose to anger him. The tiger bites the spear, thus hitting the spear directly and not damaging the skin, the spear lodges itself inside the throat of the tiger and he inevitably dies. If he does not die on the first instance, the spear is used again. This goes on and finally, the tiger dies without any damage to the skin.

The significance of bright moon light comes into significance now as the the tiger is immediately skinned under the light with tanning material. The head of the tiger is hidden under a rock. The body meat is thrown in various directions away from the actual place of the kill to divert the attention of those in pursuit.

The role of those who are engaged in the trade quickly shift as the poacher connects with his carrier. The skin and other parts are shifted to the carrier. The role of the poacher ends here. The carrier takes the earliest bus to a nearby city where he meets a designated person, hands over the skin and goes back. Money is not exchanged.

The tiger is poached. That is the story of hunting….

If arrested, convictions are slow and rare. No one carries any proof of the crime. They are ultimately given bail as they are connected politically. One tiger less in the country now.