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Who fired five gunshots at night in poacher-infested wildlife sanctuary?

Even amidst announcements from the state forest department about increased patrolling activities to curb rampant poaching of wild animals, an excursion undertaken by MiD DAY to the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS) on Tuesday night painted a sorry picture of negligence and apathy. Even as this correspondent camped in the heart of the dark forests in the wee hours of Wednesday, five deafening rounds of firing were heard.

A short conversation with villagers near the Pelhar dam on the TWS boundary revealed that poaching activities are continuing unbridled in the forests. MiD DAY’s visit to the TWS borders near the Pelhar dam also exposed the unchecked illegal fishing done in the waters of the dam. And then came the climactic event of the night. Around 12.30 am on Wednesday, there was movement nearby, with torchlight momentarily cutting through the darkness. A minute later, the deafening sound of gunshots filled the valley. These were followed, at close intervals, by four more rounds of firing.


Shot in the dark: The decomposed body of a leopard with a claw missing was recovered from Yeoor forest on Sunday, making it the second such case of leopard poaching in Tungareshwar this year

Two down, officially
The decomposed body of a leopard with a claw missing was recovered from Yeoor forest on Sunday, making it the second such case of leopard poaching in Tungareshwar this year. Speaking to MiD DAY, Krishna Tiwari, an environmentalist who is a wildlife and leopard expert, said, “Poaching of wildlife in areas like Ghodbunder, Nagla, TWS — all situated to the north of SGNP — cannot be ruled out as there are some gangs of poachers which are active in this area. These poachers infiltrate the forests under the cover of night and poach wild animals like wild boar, spotted deer, rabbits, mouse deer, and even leopards. In the past we have encountered many mysterious cases of leopard deaths. This is of course a serious concern, as the leopard population is dwindling in TWS.”

Dying out
In 2009, around 85 spotted deer were captured from Powai and released in the TWS. Barely three years have passed, and, shockingly, a sighting of the animal is extremely rare today, its absence in the thickets being attributed largely to poaching. Leopards are the ultimate haul for poachers, as there is a high demand for leopard skin, bones and nails in the international market for their putative medicinal properties. “The forest department should immediately start strict vigils, night roundups and patrolling in the forest and crack down on the gang of poachers,” added Tiwari.

Forest dept says
The morning after the gunshots were heard, officials denied having heard any such sounds. Assistant Conservator of the Forest of TWS Satish Phale said, “It is not possible that the sound that you heard was from gunshots. It must have been something else. At regular intervals, the forest department’s mobile squad patrols the forest, and we have formed various teams for the same purpose. It will not be right to say that a gang of poachers is active in the area.” When informed about the alarming sounds heard in the wee hours of Wednes-day in the heart of the forest, Principal Secretary (Forest) Praveen Pardeshi said, “I will immediately ask the concerned forest department officials to look into the matter and verify the facts.”

Liquor trap
A villager, on condition of anonymity, attributed the killings to the poor patrolling activities by forest department officials. “There are also illegal liquor dens in the forest, which operate covertly at night," he said. “These dens are set up strategically near the water bodies in the sanctuary. In the summer months, dry streams force forest animals to come down to these watering holes, making them easy prey for the waiting poachers, who frequent these liquor dens.”

Did you know?
According to the 2011 wildlife census carried out in TWS, there are 5 leopards in the forest, 13 spotted deer (down from an earlier 24), 23 wild boar (down from 28), 41 langur (down from 90), and 37 monkeys (down from 128). 

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