Murders at Camp 38:Seeking Justice for the Murder of A Mother & Her Cubs
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This is a petition to recognize the high frequency of unnatural Tiger Deaths in India, the apparent indifference of the forest department in dealing with the matter, and a demand for justice and punishment for those under whose watch the beloved Tigress 'Baghin-Nala' and her 2, 7 month old cubs were poisoned in Pench Tiger Reserve on 28th March 2016.
To set up an INDEPENDENT, HIGH-LEVEL INVESTIGATING COMMITTEE to look into the matter with priority. This investigating committee must include individuals who have been working in the interest of conserving wildlife for years and must NOT INCLUDE the forest officials from Pench as they were the office bearers in the region where the incident took place.
We also request that the investigation is completed swiftly in no more than 30 DAYS, the decision is shared openly with the public, the murderers are punished, and the officers under whose watch this ghastly incident took place are suspended so as to set a precedent for similar cases that are occurring throughout the country.
In the first 3 months of 2016 alone 26 Tigers across the country have been reported dead (9 Tigers a month!). The number only includes confirmed deaths and not 'missing tigers'. Shockingly! In Pench Tiger Reserve the numbers spike to a dozen Tiger Deaths in the past 8 months. The reasons range from electrocution to poisoning. In most cases, it is found that the concerned authorities spend more time in trying to wash their hands off the responsibility than in planning and setting measures to create a safer environment for the animals (not just tigers).
Murder by Numbers in Pench TR
Below are some deaths recorded in Pench in the past few months
1. July-Aug 2015- Death of a tigress in Khawasa, Mudia Reeth
2. 15 Aug 2015- Death of a tigress and her cubs in core area adjacent to village Potia
3. 27 Nov 2015- Death of a tiger from electrocution in the Buffer zone near village Dundayer, Ghat Kohka
4. 2 Jan 2016- Death of a tiger by falling in a boundary-less well in a field in village Simaria
5. 3 Jan 2016- Death of a tiger in Deolapaar Range
6. 7 Jan 2016- A tiger electrocuted in a field in Jamtara Range
7. 29 Jan 2016- Death of a tiger in Gumtara Range, Palashpaani Beat
8. 1 Feb 2016- Death of a tiger in the core area of Gumtara Range
9. 28 Mar 2016- Death of a tigress and her 2 7 month old cubs in the Baghin-Nala core area
Besides these recorded deaths there are various incidences of well known and frequently sighted tigers who go missing and are never seen again or credibly accounted for by the forest department.
Story of Mass Murder
On 28th March 2016, various tourists entering through the Touria Gate of the famous Pench Tiger Reserve in MP noticed the darling Tigress and a mother of 4 young cubs lying at a distance from the road. She was in her territory and guests were thrilled to click a sleeping tigress from such a close distance. The excitement turned to shock when during the exit hours few drivers of the tourist vehicles realized that she was lying in the exact position as before and was highly unusual. The kids who always accompanied her were not around and a stranger was captured on a phone-cam on FOOT (it is illegal for outsiders to get off their vehicles once inside the core area, and loitering is prohibited) clicking the tigress from a dangerously close distance.The authorities were immediately informed by the concerned witnesses as they feared (rightly so) that the tigress was dead.
Soon it was confirmed that the dead tigress was indeed T-17 a.k.a The Baghin-Nala Female, daughter of legendary ‘Badi Mada’ who was the subject of the BBC Documentary titled Spy in the Jungle, and sister of the illustrious T-15 commonly known as ‘Collarwali’. It was past tourist hours and the park gates were shut. The authorities refused to answer questions or confirm death. When they could no longer deny death of one of the most loved tigresses of the park, an entertaining but cooked up story was floated that a new male was being seen in the area and it is possible that he killed the tigress in a fight.
The next morning of the 29th when I, along with the other concerned locals went to the gate, the senior officers refused to meet us on the pretext of being caught up in the case while the subordinates continued being rude and inconsiderate. Disheartened with such a response, the gypsy drivers(responsible for taking guests inside the area for a ride) and guides refused to enter the park for the morning rides. Realizing that this could snowball into a crisis, the Field Director agreed to meet us. Once pressurized by the village elders, he complied and took some of us along to show the rapidly rotting body of T-17. The once beautiful tigress was bloated, with flies all over, and there were clear trail of froth coming out of her mouth, a certain sign of foul play; but we waited and hoped that the officials will be forthright in their analysis. As shocked and grief stricken as we were, we insisted on seeing the autopsy so that we could see the signs of what we feared-POISONING. However our demands were turned down on flimsy ground that “the national animal cannot be cut open in front of strangers”. It was at this moment that we were sure that the forest authorities had internally confirmed that it was a case of poisoning and were using their position to blindside us.
The second most important question was about the well being of the cubs, which were entertained with platitudes and standard automated replies of investigation being underway.
Dissatisfied and cheated, we left the scene without signing the report that said that we had witnessed the autopsy and informed hundreds of others who were anxiously waiting outside the gates.
In the hours that followed, decaying bodies of 2 of the cubs were also discovered. The crowd was sad and angry and wanted answers, but at that moment the officers had none.
For the entire past month, the locals had noticed movement of heavy machinery and tractors inside the restricted area of the park through a lesser known, and less frequented route. On asking the Field Director about the role of those vehicles inside the core area, he brushed it aside and maintained that it was legal to use such vehicles in the area where tigers resided and that he had given the permission to ‘repair’ a 4Kilometer stretch of road inside the park while simultaneously deepening a water body that was standard procedure.
It was obvious that these outsiders who were living inside the park had something to do with the deaths and we demanded to see the register in which the names and details of all the workers were listed so that we could help the authorities in catching the culprit. We were in for a rude shock, when first the officials refused to share the details with us; on insistence and sensing the rising anger, the Ranger agreed to share the register in the evening; but when we went to the gate for the same the said officer was missing and the Field Director conveniently obfuscated the demand. Later it was discovered that no such register ever existed and that no logs were ever created to record the entry and exit hours of the workforce.
On the same day, 29th of March 2016 various dead bodies of Spotted Deer, and other birds were discovered thus confirming poisoning of one of the water sources inside the park. This assumption of ours was bolstered when one of the water bodies that existed close to where the tigress had died was immediately filled and an identical water body was dug up at a little distance.
To display their efficiency 3 innocent villagers were detained for over 48 hours (detention over 24 hours is unlawful), beaten (another unlawful act), coaxed (to name anybody if they wanted to be released), and made to sign blank papers before release which only happened when the wives and family members of the detained men threatened to commit suicide.
5 days have passed now, and life in Pench, a primarily rural region where almost everybody relies on wildlife for livelihood, has still not attained normalcy. But before we forget all this, and move on, the following questions need to be answered:
1. Who sanctioned the use of heavy machinery inside the protected area of a Tiger Reserve when the laws clearly state that all the work inside the core areas must be done manually, thus avoiding noise that disturbs the resident species of animals?
2. Why was it necessary to use earth shaking machinery to deepen a dried up water body in an area that shelters a mother with 4 young cubs, and disturbing the movement pattern of a very secretive animal who these officers have been assigned to protect?
3. Why were records of outsiders who had been working inside the protected area for a month not created and maintained?
4. Why were these laborers from far off villages permitted to sleep inside the highly sensitive area of the forest despite knowing that it would be impossible to keep a tab on the movement of all of them (over 50 employees) throughout the day?
5. Why was nobody allowed to witness the postmortem of the tigress?
6. Why has no action been taken against the guards of Camp 38 around which the deaths occurred?
7. Why were local villagers detained while those working inside were held with kid gloves?
8. When will a high-level inquiry committee be created to inquire into this case of gross oversight and deaths due to carelessness?
9. Who would be the members in the committee?
10. When will the action be taken on the senior officers who are responsible for running such a shoddy show?
Tourism & Conservation
There exists a misconception behind the silos of the forest department that tourism is detrimental to conservation and must be discouraged. As somebody from the leisure industry, I can confidently refute this derisive point of view.
With easy availability of high end cameras with excellent specifications, the number of passionate wildlife enthusiasts and photographers has grown manifold. These tourists spend thousands to visit national parks and tiger reserves to observe animals in their natural habitat. The forest department must condition itself to view tourists as their friends and not enemies. As it is impossible to spot every single corner of dense forest, the authorities must learn to view those entering the park as eyes and ears that are quick to spot any kind of irregularity going on inside. In the current case, if not for the driver, and the guide, the news of T-17’s death would never have come to light.
These vehicle drivers, guides, and learned guests who enter parks often are best witnesses of the location of tigers in the park and are the first to spot irregularities. The guides must in fact be trained better to keep an eye on things from a patrolling perspective and any proactive report or vigilance must be encouraged and rewarded. This will increase the security of our beloved forests manifold without a considerable rise in the cost for the department.
Why the Petition?
It is painful and frustrating to see that those associated with the forest and tiger conservation are unable to utilize the funds rightly and waste them in unnecessary beautification of buildings and gates and projects that are irrelevant to conservation. Let's not forget that with a modern tourism infrastructure, reach of social media platforms, and a rising interest in wildlife tourism, the Tiger Reserves are generating great revenues and have no dearth of money that might have restricted the authorities from creating systems to protect those very animals that are earning them their salaries.
I hope that this petition will help in meting out justice to the murderers of a beautiful tigers and her cubs who wiped out the entire blood line in one unfathomably barbaric and reckless act.
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