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Death continues to dog Maharashtra's big cats

As per reports from the Maharashtra Forest Department, the new year started off on a bad note for the state’s big cats: two tigers and three leopards lost their lives within the first fortnight of 2017. Of these, the leopards and one of the tigress’ deaths have been linked to poaching activity.

Sources said that on January 8, a leopard died after being caught in a snare in Chandrapur. The next day two leopards were poisoned at the Khapa range near Nagpur, and a tigress was electrocuted in the same area on January 13. A day later, another tigress was found dead in Pench Tiger Reserve.

Divisional forest officer and spokesperson of the state forest department’s wildlife wing, Girish Vashisth confirmed these deaths. Mortality due to unnatural causes like poisoning, electrocution and snares were counted as poaching, he said.

Tiger deaths

Officials said in the Khapa case, while it was not clear if the tigress was from the area, the feline was electrocuted by live-wire fencing at Maharkund and sniffer dog ‘Jai’ was used to detect the buried carcass. Two dead sambar deer were also found. “The area is just 2 km away from the Pench Tiger Reserve’s buffer zone,” said an official.

On January 13, a female tiger carcass was found between core and buffer areas of Pench Tiger Reserve. According to postmortem report, cause of death was ‘natural’, a respiratory system failure.

Leopard poaching activity

Officials from Chandrapur circle confirmed a leopard death near the Chandrapur thermal power station. It was caught in a snare laid for trapping wild boar, they said.

Meanwhile, Kundan Hate, Honorary Wildlife Warden, Nagpur, said two leopards were found dead in the Khapa range. “The half-eaten body of a dog was found in a nearby field and it is suspected that the leopards died after eating this poisoned carcass,” he added.

Identifying loopholes

“In wildlife areas, patrolling takes place daily, which is not the case in territorial forest divisions. So, threats to wildlife are not noticed,” said Hate. He said the departmental staff were also burdened with other works, which affected protection measures. “Many a times, the staff has detected cases of live wires being laid to kill animals before any harm was caused. However, foot patrolling by beat staff has been compromised in favour of motorcycles, which led to animal deaths going unnoticed for days,” Hate said.

Vashisth said they were co-ordinating with the state power distribution utility to prevent and detect killings of animals via electrocution, which he said was a “cat and mouse game.”