Tiger probe scanner on city
9 May 2009, 0244 hrs IST, Prithvijit Mitra, TNN
KOLKATA: Several tiger skins, body parts and even skeletons could be lying hidden in and around Kolkata, believe forest officials.
They suspect these are being regularly smuggled into the city on the way to Bangalore and Mumbai, which points to increased poaching activity in the Sunderbans. The city is now under the scanner of a forest department investigation team, which has been carrying on raids along with the police in the Sunderbans, where a tiger skeleton was recovered on Wednesday.
"The raids will continue, but the focus will now shift to Kolkata. There is reason to believe that tiger parts have been brought to the city and are waiting to be smuggled out. The heightened vigil and the seizures in recent weeks have made it difficult for the smugglers, but they will be at it. It is a difficult task for us and we are keeping our fingers crossed," said Subrat Mukherjee, field director, Sundarban Tiger Reserve (STR).
Areas like Sonarpur, Rajabazar and Park Circus have been identified as the likely areas where tiger parts could be hidden. Investigations suggest that these could soon be sneaked out of the city to Bangalore and Mumbai, which serve as transit points as well. "Almost all tiger parts ultimately make their way to China. Only the routes keep changing for obvious reasons. It goes without saying that these tigers were killed in the Sunderbans. North Bengal tigers are rarely routed through Kolkata," said an official.
Experts said this pointed to the worrying fact that tiger poaching has perhaps become more rampant in the mangrove forest. More poachers are now active in the area, which is evident from the recovery of a tiger carcass, a skin and a skeleton in the last six months, they point out. "It is now clear that the matter is much more serious than it was initially believed to be. There is vigil in the Sunderbans, but it won't be effective till they upgrade their equipment. It is unfortunate that patrolling has to stop after sundown. They still don't have any night-vision equipment," said Anurag Danda, WWF's Sunderban in-charge.
A poaching racket is believed to be behind the recent tiger killings in Sunderbans. But only a few local accomplices were arrested. The forest department is yet to crack the smuggling chain. "Honestly, we can't say that we are close to nabbing the real culprits. In fact, we may never get even close to them. Keeping a check on poaching is the best that we can strive for," said a senior forest official.
But Kolkata being used as a tiger smuggling transit point is not unprecedented, said former STR director and environmentalist Pranabesh Sanyal. "Seizures and recoveries have been made in Kolkata before. But 15 years ago, poachers were not feeding China. Now, the whole dynamics of tiger parts smuggling has changed. It has become much more rampant and a serious threat to the tiger's existence. It will be sad if we can't save the Bengal tiger from poachers," said Sanyal.