`Ten of us, we killed at least 22 tigers’
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Three hunters confess to killing 10 tigers, name seven who poached a
dozen more. A stunned police now wonder what the 273 staff at
Ranthambhore were doing. The Sunday Express, which first exposed the
vanishing tiger, travels to Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to meet, first
hand, the men, who the cops say, took out the Ranthambhore tiger. And
finds out that their startling testimony could hide more than it
Sawai Madhopur/ Kota (Rajasthan)/ Sheopur (Madhya Pradesh), November 19
They are shocking in their frankness: “Jangal ke andar ghumte rahte
the hum. Sher ka panja milne par per pe baith jate. Raat ko mar ke chale
jaate aur subah jaake khaal nikalte the.” (We roamed in the forest
looking for tiger pugmarks. Once we had spotted them, we would take
position on trees. We hunted in the night and returned in the morning to
skin the tiger.”
That’s how three poachers, by their own admission, killed at least 22
tigers in Ranthambhore since 2003right under the nose of 273 forest staff
that guard India’s most famous tiger reserve.
Ever since the tiger count in Ranthambhore fell from 47 to 26 in less
than two years, officials in New Delhi and Rajasthan have been wary of
attributing it to poaching.
They can’t any more.
Working on leads from wildlife activists, a crack team of the Rajasthan
Police has arrested three Moghiya tribal poachers who have confessed to
killing 10 Ranthambhore tigers. They have named another seven who,
according to them, have taken out at least 12 more tigers during the same
While Prithviraj alias Pirthia confessed to killing one tiger, Kesra and
Devi Singh say they killed four and five big cats respectively. Pirthia
and Kesra are tribals from Kota and Bundi in Rajasthan; Devi is a
sarpanch of Dhamni village in adjacent Sheopur in Madhya Pradesh.
Interviews with the police and these three alleged poachers by The
Sunday Express reveal a method remarkably simple:
• They operated from villages, like Uliana, right next to the national
• Their weapon of choice: muzzle-loading guns although in one case, metal
traps were also used.
• Didn’t the guards act as a deterrent? Says Devi Singh: “Yes, we came
across them but they never intercepted any of us.” He confessed to even
firing guns within a few hundred yards of forest chowkies. Why didn’t
anybody come checking? “Pata nahin (Don’t know),” is his answer.
• Kesra, who says he killed four tigers, is more forthcoming. “My in-law
has good contacts and forest guards never told us anything while we moved
around in the jungle),” he told The Sunday Express.
All of them say they supplied tiger skins and bones to one Azad in Madhya
Pradesh who is now the target of a massive police hunt. While a tiger
fetched Rs 60,000, a tigress would bring anything between Rs 40-50,000,
depending on her length. They also poached leopards at will, each for
just Rs 15,000.
Pirthia and his father were arrested on November 2 from their village,
Ashok Nagar Kanwad, 100 km from Kota under Itawah police station. Police
said the family had several wildlife items including tiger whiskers and
Kesra was present at Pirthia’s residence and was also picked up. During
interrogation, he named Devi Singh.
“The network extends from Sawai Madhopur to interiors of Madhya Pradesh.
We hope to make more arrests soon,” said Alok Bashisht, SP, Kota (rural),
who is heading the investigation.
“During interrogation, we were surprised to know how these poachers had
such free access to the forests. They seemed very confident and even
travelled by jeep. We will know exactly how deep inside the national park
they ventured to once we take them for spot verification,” said IG
(crime) Ajit Singh Sekhawat who is monitoring the investigation from
While police work on these confession statements, one thing is clear: if
there is one thing these poachers have made clear, it’s the
ineffectiveness of the official machinery.
Not without reason.
The average age of the Ranthambhore ground staff is 49 the last
recruitment took place 15 years ago. How tuned the staff was to the
poaching is evident by DFO G S Bhardwaj’s presentation to the PM during
his visit to Ranthambhore on May 22 this year: Everything is in order, he
This denial wasn’t new. When The Sunday Express first reported
that 18 tigers had gone missing in Ranthambhore, Project Tiger director
Rajesh Gopal and DG (wildlife) R P Katyal dismissed the report. But after
other national parks began reporting the same trend, officials were
eventually forced to conduct a joint tiger census involving independent
In July, the census established that the tiger population was indeed down
by 21. Besides, Census figures showed that seven tigers went missing in
the adjoining Palpur-Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh during the same
COPS POSED AS PWD STAFF TO TRAP SARPANCH POACHER
• Anticipating resistance from villagers, nine policemen visited Dhamni
village, near Sheopur, in two vehicles, posing as PWD officials.
• They asked Sarpanch Devi Singh (in photo) to join them for a quick
inspection of sadak yojana work saying the Collector would survey it the
• Once Devi Singh came out of the village, the police team whisked him
• On November 10, interrogation began at Itawah PS and the sarpanch said
he had killed five tigers. He named other poachers operating in
• The weapons have been recovered. Devi Singh will be in police remand
until Nov 24, the others are in custody
OTHERS IN NET
• March 16, 2005: A gang of suspected poachers confessed to killing at
least 10 tigers in Sariska during 2002-2004. All in custody. Trial yet to
• June 30: Sansar Chand, India’s most wanted wildlife criminal, was
arrested in west Delhi. Wanted by 9 states in over 50 cases of poaching
and skin smuggling. Named by CBI in report on the disappearance of
• July 29: Arrested by Chhattarpur (MP) police, Raees and Yusuf confessed
to selling five tiger and 29 leopard skins from Panna
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