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Poaching

Wildlife Rangers Armed to the Teeth

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BANGALORE ~ Karnataka, home to 300 tigers, became the first state to raise a Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) this week, with 54 forest personnel completing intensive 13-week commando training to combat poachers. The first batch of graduates, comprising 14 foresters and 40 forest guards, will now be posted in wildlife sanctuaries in the state, including Bandipur and Nagarhole. The team comes equipped with training in weapons, unarmed combat, map reading, field deputation, disaster management, first aid, crowd control, and martial arts—and a mandate to shoot poachers on sight.

 “When it comes to tiger poaching and smuggling, we need a specialised force,” says Rajesh Gopal of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). “We have been sanctioned Rs 50 crore to raise such forces across 13 tiger reserves in nine states.’’

The NTCA has cautioned three southern states about the depredations of poachers from Katni district, Madhya Pradesh—members of tribes called Bahelias and Pardhis, who hunt the tiger nation-

wide. They are known to camp deep inside forests and lay jaw traps for the endangered beasts. Once trapped, the animal is shot and cleaned with skinning knives of various sizes to carve out the skin. The flesh is disposed of on the spot, and the bones are crushed to powder to disguise the odour. The high-value remains are sold to smugglers, who send it to China, whose insatiable appetite for animal body parts for their supposed medicinal value spurs much of the poaching of tigers and rhinos in the country.

While in 2010, the Assam government enacted an amendment so that rangers who killed poachers in Kaziranga would not be prosecuted, the STPF is the first specialised armed force in the country. The staff will be funded by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and raised by state forest departments.