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Project Tiger

The Beasts Within

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A new, damning report by the Intelligence Cell of Panna Tiger Reserve says that forest officials abetted poachers, and account for the speed with which Panna lost all its tigers: from 23 in 1994, to none by 2008. The confidential report, reported in Down to Earth, reveals that many officials including guards and sub-divisional officers suppressed cases of tiger deaths and even tried to destroy evidence of poaching. The report was submitted to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) HS Pabla in February, and a section of it came to light through an RTI application filed by a Bhopal-based activist. Specific examples of the forest officers’ misdemeanours, as revealed by the report, include a beat in-charge seizing a tiger skin from two poachers and then letting them off after taking Rs 40,000 from them; and another radio-collared tiger poached through nooses, with the poachers, possible associates of a relative of a former MLA, being subsequently acquitted in a lower level court and their hair and blood samples never being tested. Though the report was corroborated by plenty of evidence, including statements of 20 independent witnesses, both staff and local residents, seized tiger bones, and traps, Pabla says there is not “much substance” to the allegations.