Even as the Royal Bengal tiger appears to have virtually disappeared from renowned reserve forests like Sariska and Ranthambore in Rajasthan, pug marks of a tigress and a cub have been spotted for the first time in Goa's Mhadei wildlife sanctuary.
Officials of the forest department, which is grappling with a tiger poaching probe, spotted the fresh pug marks May 12 in the decade old sanctuary, about 60 km from Panaji. The marks were only a short distance from the area where a tiger was allegedly killed by poachers last month.
Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) Shashi Kumar told IANS that the sighting proved that the wildlife sanctuary had proved to be an ideal habitat for tigers.
"The sighting occurred near the Anjunem dam. From the footprints, it appears that a tigress was walking her cub along the edge of the reservoir. It is an amazing development. It is a great sign considering the fact that tigers have disappeared from some of the top reserve forests in the country," said Kumar.
"They may have visited the sanctuary from the adjoining forests in Maharashtra or Karnataka, which has contiguous forest cover. We have never had direct evidence about the existence of a tiger in our forests," he added.
Commenting on the status of the investigation into tiger poaching, Kumar said that forest officials were having a tough time collecting hard evidence despite the fact that local residents acknowledged the incident.
"The statements given by the people arrested change every now and then. We have arrested a couple of people who are experts at making and laying out traps and those who have been arrested for poaching in the past. But not much evidence has been forthcoming," said Kumar.
The killing of a tiger, which is protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, is a grave offence.
Kumar said the department had been unable to seize the mobile phone, which was used to photograph the dead beast. The poaching incident came to light after the photograph was published in a national daily newspaper last month by wildlife activist Rajendra Kerkar.
"We have attached a computer hard disc on which we suspect the photograph of the dead tiger was stored. We will be sending it to technical experts so that it can be scanned for any incriminating evidence," said Kumar said.
The Mhadei wildlife sanctuary is located in Goa's northernmost Sattari taluka and is spread across 208 sq m. It was notified in 1999.