Circumstantial evidence of a tiger sacrifice was not enough. It took a forensic examination to indicate that a tigress was killed deep inside the Corbett National Park more than a month ago - not a jackal as forest officials claimed.
On May 24, Corbett staff found the innards of an animal in the core area of the tiger reserve. Wildlife activists claimed it was a tiger's. But Ranjan Mishra, director of Corbett's tiger reserve, insisted the parts were those of a porcupine or jackal.
Wildlife activists' suspicions of tiger poaching were aroused by the fact that forest officials found clothes, an empty box of sweets and ash at the Bijrani range deep inside the reserve.
Activists said the material was evidence of a puja having been conducted. Tribes such as Bawarias usually conduct pujas before sacrificing wild animals, especially tigers.
Anil Baluni, former vice-chairperson of the Uttarakhand environment and forest advisory committee, said the tigress was skinned and most of its body parts were taken away.
Another Dehradun-based wildlife expert said entire body parts are taken away only in the case of big cats as they fetch high prices.
Mishra, however, said, "There is a huge difference in the small intestine of tigers and other animals. We are sure this animal was not a tiger or tigress. We have sent the body parts for further analysis."
The Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) was asked to conduct a forensic examination of the intestines and initial reports point to the animal having been a tigress, sources told HT.
"We have not received any report from WII so far," the state's chief wildlife warden SA Sharma said.
"We are trying our best to save the tigers but patrolling round the clock is not possible. One or two poaching incidents should not be construed as tigers being unsafe in the big open jungle of Corbett," he said.