Deer, monitor lizards, tigers all game in Goa's forests

Panaji, Exotic varieties of deer, monitor lizards, wild boar, bears and even leopards and tigers are favourite game for Goa's poachers who have freely trapped and shot wildlife in the state's five wildlife sanctuaries over the last couple of years, official records show.

The records, sourced from the state forest ministry, also suggest that two incidents involving the sale of tiger parts were also recorded, in which the poachers were booked for selling tiger skins, claws and other body parts.

From 2012 till now, forest department statistics show that 44 monitor lizards, and in some cases their skin and flesh, were seized from over half a dozen poachers nabbed in different parts of the state.

In Goa's ruralscape, a dead monitor lizard has multiple uses. Hunted with the help of dog packs, the blood of the tough lizard is believed to cure asthma, its flesh is cooked as a sought after delicacy and, more importantly, its tough skin is used to make a traditional drum.

The rampant hunting of monitor lizards also featured during the just-concluded monsoon session of the Goa assembly, where even Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar was forced to admit that hunting of monitor lizards was a cause of concern.

"We have to find out substitutes for monitor skin," Parrikar said.

Deer species like sambar, mouse deer, black buck and spotted deer were also favoured by poachers, who shot eight of the herbivores.

Records also show that cases under the central Wildlife Act were registered in connection with the poaching of 10 wild boars. Cases were also registered in connection with three crocodiles and three leopards that were snared by poachers.

The metal-wire snares are a favourite with the poachers, along with detonator bombs. In the former, snared animals are caught, even sliced right through their bellies, neck or limbs as they struggle to escape the wire grip. The more the struggle, the tighter the snare gets, eventually bleeding the animal to death.

The bombs are essentially balls of explosive and shrapnel rolled together with pressure sensitive detonation mechanisms. These lethal round shaped balls are then coated with herbs or other vegetation game is attracted to and strewn around the paths along which they normally traverse.

"The moment the beast bites into these balls they explode and the ball bearings (or other shrapnel) inside these contraptions cut and tear through the beast's mouth and vital parts, lethally wounding the animal," a forest official told IANS.

Both techniques are popular with poachers in Goa, who do not have to lie in wait for their prey nor shoot, which often puts forest officials on the alert.

But the most critical statistic is the reference to tiger parts, including skin, which was being peddled to potential buyers in Goa. In September 2013, three Maharshtrians - Suraj and Himmat Jamkar and Kalu Ulke - were booked for selling tiger claws, even as the parts were sent to the Wildlife Institute in Dehradun for forensic analysis. In another case, Sanjay Pawar from Maharashtra's Sindhudurg district was booked for selling a tiger skin in June 2012.

"A panchanama (situation report) has been drawn up and inspection has been done. Further inquiry is in progress," Forest Minister Alina Saldanha told IANS about the latter case.

These two incidents, as well as the poaching of a tiger in 2009 in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, may suggest that Goa's forests are prime habitats for tigers, but politicians across the board have been unwilling to upgrade the sanctuary, located 70 km northeast of Panaji and ringed by iron ore deposits worth billions of rupees. The sanctuary is spread across 208.5 sq km.

Even as the union ministry for environment and forests has asked the Goa government for a formal proposal to upgrade the sanctuary into a tiger reserve Saldanha said that as of now, there is no proposal before the government to do so.

"At present, sufficient protection has been given to the area as it is declared a sanctuary," she said, adding that tiger expert K. Ulhas Karanth has been asked to study the issue.

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