In the early 2003 Mr. G.V.Reddy left for higher studies to Mysore. At that time, all of us in Ranthambhore were firm in our opinion that there were over 40 tigers (including cubs) in the park. Towards the end of his tenure here, Reddy was promoted as the Field Director of the park. He was earlier the Deputy Field Director. After he became the Field Director, Mr. G.S. Bhardwaj joined as the Deputy Field Director. Mr. Bhardwaj did some good work initially but he soon got bogged down in a lot of controversies. Besides he had very poor support from his junior officers.
Around this time almost all the officers in charge of the park were transferred and the new lot that had joined did not have much local support. They did not even try to build any local support. Besides none of them had any experience with wild life. This happens in India all the time – an officer with no background in wildlife gets posted to a premier tiger reserve and in a few days time he starts assuming that he is the ultimate expert on tigers. The bigger problem is that the government actually gives him the authority to implement whatever stupid ideas he comes out with. This is exactly what happened in Ranthambhore in 2003.
The new lot of officers that joined in 2003, were so busy checking out the tourists and the new hotels that were coming up around Ranthambhore that they had no time for the park. This is when the “bad guys” realized that the protection in Ranthambhore has become soft and that they can easily go in for the kill.
The demand for tiger skins and bones has been going up for the last decade or so. The skins mostly go to Tibet through Nepal, while the bones and other parts go to China and East Asia. (The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) of UK has some excellent documentation of the trade in tiger parts). In the last 2-3 years, as a lot of Tibeteans started getting richer the demand for Tiger and Leopard skins went through the ceiling. To quote from the EIA website: “Travellers to Tibet in 1995 documented the use of tiger and leopard skins to decorate costumes known as chubas, mostly among the Khampa people from eastern Tibet. Historically however, the wearing of skins was restricted to victorious war commanders, rewarded with a patch of skin by the great Kings of Tibet; it is not traditional for every day Tibetans to wear tiger and leopard skin. It was never traditional to wear the entire skin or great swathes of skin. Tragically, anyone with the affluence is able to wear this illegal product”
Unfortunately for Ranthambhore, as the demand for tiger skins went up the quality of protection declined dramatically.
Mr. Reddy had built up such a reputation here that most of the small time poachers around here – who kill small mammals (mainly deer, hare and wild-boars) for bush meat – had been lying low till he was in-charge. When he left such people became active again. When no action was taken against them they word spread that “Ranthambhore has again become a soft target”. And the “big bad guys”, who had disappeared in Reddy’s time came back. These guys were mostly from Mogiya and Bagariya tribes. These are hunting tribes who were classified as “criminal tribes” during the British Raj. I will tell you more about them in another post.