Panna Tiger Reserve: Autopsy report indicates tiger was killed by poachers
The autopsy report of a beheaded tiger found in Madhya Pradesh’s Panna Tiger Reserve in August has indicated poaching and said the big cat’s claws and sex organs were removed even as authorities then maintained it was killed in a territorial fight.
Principal chief forest conservator (wildlife) Alok Kumar said he has ordered a probe into the latest tiger killing in the reserve, where at least five big cats have been found dead over the last eight months. “...further action [will be] based on the findings of the inquiry. There were certain local issues at the park level. I have issued a warning to them to sort out the issues or face disciplinary action,” said Kumar.
The reserve has been repopulated with big cats a decade after it lost all its tigers in 2009.
The carcass of the beheaded 8-year-old tiger code-named P-123 was found floating in the Ken river in the reserve’s Hinauta range on August 9. K S Bhadauria, the reserve’s director, had then said P-123 was killed a couple of days earlier in a fight with another tiger during mating. The reserve management maintained a forest guard was a witness to the fight from a watchtower and that the corpse of the tiger was washed away and recovered about two kilometres away two days later.
The autopsy report has belied the explanation. It said P-123 suffered head, neck, skin, muscle injuries and that its testes and penis were sharply removed from base of tail to abdomen after its death. HT seen a copy of the report.
Wildlife experts say ordinary people cannot remove the sex organs of a tiger or they cannot be damaged in a territorial fight. They added the report indicates the presence of poachers in and around the reserve.
Panna’s erstwhile royal family head, Jeeteshwari Devi, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the deaths of five tigers even as forest officials, including Bhadauria, have maintained they were killed in territorial or fights during mating.
“There are attempts to cover up the killing of tigers in Panna Tiger Reserve. Why this is being done is a matter of inquiry. There are loopholes in the information given by the park management after the killing of tigers. There were attempts to suppress information regarding the beheading of the tiger as well. A CBI inquiry should be ordered and stringent action taken against the park management,” she said.
Former forest conservator Jagdish Chandra said the argument regarding frequent territorial fights in a short span of eight months or so does not sound convincing. “Further, the latest incident in which the beheaded corpse of a tiger was found gives a strong indication about the presence of poachers. There should be an inquiry.”
A forest department official, who did not want to be named, cited the Covid-19 pandemic and added it could have led to laxity on part of patrolling teams and allowed the poachers to get active again. “It is a matter of inquiry...”
Bhadauria said the number of adult tigers has doubled over the past two years from 23 to 42. “There are around 15 cubs too... the core area of the reserve is about 578 square kilometres. In 100 square kilometres, there should be about six tigers. Hence, the growing number of tigers is the reason behind territorial fights. Of the five deaths, a couple of deaths took place in fights during or prior to mating. Hence, these deaths are not unusual.”
Bhaduaria said checking man-animal conflict in the buffer zone is a challenge for them with a number of tigers growing in the same space. “Certain incidents took place in the past. Now, we are trying to educate the villagers around on how to avoid conflict with the tigers.”
(With input from Anupam Pateriya in Sagar)