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Did poachers kill 75 deer at Mumbai's Tungareshwar sanctuary?

The arrest of two poachers at the wildlife sanctuary on Friday for killing a wild boar raised questions whether the hunters had also got to the deer; there have been no deer sightings recently at the sanctuary

After two poachers were nabbed at the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS) for killing a wild boar, there are now fears that the 75 deer released into the forest in 2009 might have also been preyed upon. There have been no recent sightings of deer in the area.

Pelhar Dam at Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary, where the two poachers were caught after they killed a wild boar
Pelhar Dam at Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary, where the two poachers were caught after they killed a wild boar

The two poachers, Ramesh Balu Chawre (28) and Rohidas Dhondiba Pawar (41), were arrested by a patrolling team of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in the wee hours of Friday. The duo was part of a six-man team of hunters; a search is on for the remaining four, who managed to flee. The forest department (FD) recovered the body parts of the boar.

The rifle with which the animal was hunted
The rifle with which the animal was hunted

Tip-off
A source informed SGNP and TWS patrolling teams that the two were going to hunt the boar near Pelhar Dam. Both teams started a foot search operation around 10 pm, and around 1.15 am, the duo was apprehended.

mid-day has written about illegal poaching at TWS in the past (‘Who fired five gunshots at night in poacher-infested Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary’, April 21, 2012).

With the recent arrest, wildlife experts feel that a majority of the deer released from the BMC park in Powai in 2009 (see box) might’ve also been hunted, since no deer have been seen recently. The last sighting was in 2011, said a local villager requesting anonymity.

Krishna Tiwari, of the Forest and Wildlife Conservation Centre (FWCC), an NGO, said, “More than 70 deer were released into TWS from BMC Powai park. It was expected that their population would increase.

But deer sightings today are nil. This arrest is not only a concern for the FD, but also for wildlife lovers, because if proper measures are not taken, there can be a serious threat to wild animals like leopards which are the main predators of TWS.”

Sunish Subramaniam, from Plants & Animals Welfare Society, added, “We had opposed moving the deer to TWS, because we knew it wasn’t a safe place.

Authorities have been unable to remove a religious encroachment even after court orders; expecting them to protect animals from wild animals is a big thing.” Both asked for round-the-clock patrolling, especially near Pelhar Dam, to curb poaching.

Forest Department says
Uday Dhage, assistant conservator of forest (ACF) from TWS, said, “There were six poachers out of which we arrested two. We are searching for the other four who escaped. The poachers who were arrested were produced in the Vasai court and have been sent to police custody till March 25.

They were booked under various sections including section 9 (hunting), 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the Indian Forest Act, 1927.” However, he claimed they sighted barking deer, spotted leopard etc at TWS.

“We have sent out a strong message with this arrest and we are patrolling TWS day and night. Strict action will be taken against those who enter the park after sunset.”

From park to forest
Till January 2009, a total of 75 deer were kept in paddocks by the civic body in Powai. However, after it came to light that the BMC did not have permissions to keep the deer from the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) or the Wildlife Authority, authorities decided to release them into TWS. After a medical examination, the deer were taken to TWS, where they were kept in an enclosure as good as the wild for a few days. They were then released into the forest in batches.

85.7sq km
Area of Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary, which acts as a wildlife corridor between SGNP and Tansa wildlife sanctuary

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