Elephant poachers ‘active’ in Tamil Nadu forests again (India)



Date Published
While poachers arrested by Kerala Forest Department have confessed to have killed 16 tuskers, forest officials say only 3 cases of poaching recorded in 3 years
If confessions of a group of active elephant poachers are to be believed, it alone killed 16 tuskers in Tamil Nadu forests in the past six-seven years.
Arrested by the Kerala wildlife authorities last month with the help of the anti-Naxal wing of Tamil Nadu police, the poachers were trading in ivory from both the States. The poachers were identified as Singam, Kubendran, Nagu and Anbazhagan – all from Theni district. One of the poachers is at large.
The poachers confessed that they had killed about 16 tuskers in Tamil Nadu and traded in 200 kg of ivory and their last transaction was in February this year, say wildlife officials in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in neighbouring Kerala.
Among them, Singam alone had confessed to killing about nine elephants in Kothagiri, Mettupalayam and Sathyamangalam forests. Kubendran is linked to a tiger poaching case in 2004, sources say. The other two were operating in Meghamalai wildlife sanctuary in Theni district, adjoining the Periyar reserve.
After the confessions, the Deputy Director of the Periyar Tiger Reserve (East) John Mathew wrote to the officers concerned in the Tamil Nadu Forest Department to take the poachers into custody and probe further.
Subsequently, a team of forest officers from Coimbatore interrogated the poachers at the Periyar Tiger Reserve. “The poachers told them even the places where they where they had buried the carcasses and hidden three guns,” a Kerala forest official said, not knowing why there was no follow-up action.
Subsequently, the poachers got conditional bail and are visiting the tiger reserve every Monday to sign at one of the ranger’s office. “It still remains a puzzle why the [Tamil Nadu] forest officials did not take the poachers into custody as they were willing to show even the places where the carcasses were buried. They need not be taken to all the places. One carcass is enough to get them the punishment,” he says.
Sambars, langurs killed
The poachers had also confessed to have killed other wildlife species like sambars and Nilgiri langurs in the Tamil Nadu forests, say Kerala wildlife authorities, unwilling to be quoted.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu forest officials claim that the follow-up action initiated on the field based on the functions led to no corroboratory evidence and teams could not unearth even a single carcass or skeleton.
Tamil Nadu has the strongest anti-poaching mechanism with its beat system unlike the station system in Kerala.
“In Tamil Nadu, right from forester, guard and ranger every one is accountable and answerable, whereas the system in Kerala is different,” the official said.
Wildlife activists say the same could be the reason for the wildlife authorities in Tamil Nadu, from forester to field director, not reporting poaching as they could be reprimanded. “Tamil Nadu can’t be in a state of constant denial about poaching. One day, all the tuskers would be gone,” says a retired District Forest Officer.
When forest brigand Veerappan was prowling the ghats connecting the western and eastern ghats, his gang killed hundreds of tuskers, resulting in a skewed sex ratio, but the healthy mix returned in the past two decades after he changed ways to make money. He was subsequently killed.
Tamil Nadu witnessed only two incidents of elephant poaching in 2013 and 2014 and there had not been any such incident in the region. Now, one more case poaching has been registered in Meghamalai sanctuary limits, say officials say. In addition, the death of an elephant cannot be just hushed up because forests are open to NGOs and tribal people, claim forest officials.
The Forest Department was keeping a close tab and was shadowing about 30 persons from Varusanadu in Theni district known for poaching and wildlife offences. One of them was involved in tiger poaching in Kodaikanal, say officials.
Meanwhile, the Kerala wildlife authorities are sure that at least one more gang of about five to six poachers, led by one Vanaraja, is active in Tamil Nadu forests. Top officials in the Tamil Nadu Forest Department were unwilling to comment as it was a major inter-State issue and said only the Minister of Forests could comment on it. Forests Minister M.S.M. Anandan could not be reached.
A team from Coimbatore interrogated the poachers but found no evidence on the field