email a friend iconprinter friendly iconThe War on India's Tigers
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Over a two-week period in the fall of 2005, Khandal and Vashisth, working with up to 17 cops and volunteers at a time, conducted three raids that would break the back of the Ranthambhore poaching network. On October 28 they descended on the home of their first bust, sidestepping a pack of ferocious dogs to arrest a man who had killed one tiger and trafficked in the skins of many more. On October 30 they nabbed a gang leader who had killed four tigers. That man’s entire extended family was in town for the funeral of his mother, and they chased Khandal and company with sticks and axes. Finally, on November 15, they hauled away another gang leader, who admitted to killing five tigers. These three arrests yielded intelligence that led to 27 more, including the bust of the kingpin, Neema Kampa, in Delhi on February 5, 2006.

Just as important, one of the gang leaders explained to police how easy it was to dodge Ranthambhore’s 273 park guards. “Forest guards don’t move at night,” he said, adding that occasionally “we came across them, but they never intercepted us.” He said that he often killed tigers not far from guard posts with his loud, muzzle-loading rifle, but no rangers ever came inquiring. These confessions showed up in a front-page story in the Indian Express, resulting in the immediate removal of Ranthambhore’s top officials. The forest service could no longer deny the poaching meltdown in India’s premier tiger sanctuary. “They weren’t ready to face the embarrassment,” Vashisth says, explaining the behavior of park officials. “If your job is to protect the forest and you can’t do it, you don’t want someone else to succeed.”

One sunny afternoon Khandal takes me sightseeing around the perimeter of Ranthambhore. Along the western boundary we watch women in brightly colored saris parade out of the park through a hole in the stone wall with freshly cut branches balanced atop their heads. “They have no trees, no wood for fuel,” Khandal says, noting the crops planted right up to the park boundary. “So they get it from the park.” We pass other holes in the wall where shepherds amble in and out with herds of goats. Along the northeastern boundary, Khandal points out an area where once rugged, 50-foot ravines—natural havens for tigers and hyenas—have recently been leveled off and planted with crops.

There was a time when the wildlife sanctuaries that border the park on three sides helped buffer it from the 100,000 villagers who surround Ranthambhore. But calling any of these a “wildlife sanctuary” today is a joke. Ranthambhore National Park has become an island in a heaving sea of strikingly impoverished humanity.

Unfortunately for India’s tigers, the government seems conflicted about how to manage the country’s forests. On the one hand, it passed a law in 2006 granting millions of Indians living in them legal rights to their land for the first time. That law triggered a nationwide landgrab, with thousands of people flooding into the forests, pressuring wildlife like never before. On the other hand, at about the same time, the government passed a law stipulating that all national parks and tiger reserves be made absolutely safe for tigers. The plan calls for beefing up security at existing tiger reserves, creating new ones, and relocating the 400-plus villages currently situated inside the reserves.

The question now is, can the same folks who let the poaching crisis occur, the Indian Forest Service, successfully implement this new policy and save India’s tiger population?

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  • Life of this man is really worth meaning
  • This is a great article. I have heard a lot about Dharmendra Khandal and his efforts to save tigers …
  • every park in this country should have an independent team working on the lines of Dharm but this is…
  • Being a huge wildlife the Jungle calls me every few months . I have seen tigers in Sariska ,Ranthamb…
  • Being a huge wildlife the Jungle calls me every few months . I have seen tigers in Sariska ,Ranthamb…
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