In what has turned out to be a case of opportunistic poaching, Madhya Pradesh forest department has revealed that quackery and superstitious beliefs led three men to behead an already dead tiger and cut its private parts in Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR). Forest officials revealed this after cracking the mysterious case from last month when the headless carcass of a male tiger was recovered from the Ken River inside the tiger reserve.
The field staff of PTR and officers of the Madhya Pradesh Special Task Force (Wildlife) on Thursday arrested the three suspects, who confessed to beheading the tiger and cutting its penis, forest officials claimed. The tiger had died following a territorial fight with another tiger sometime between August 7 and 8.
Concealing information regarding a dead wildlife and making away with its body parts is a crime under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The case had raised eyebrows in the MP forest department as they initially suspected the return of comeback of an organized poaching ring. It was also a matter of concern as PTR had lost all its tigers in 2008 due to mismanagement and poaching. However, it saw a turnaround following a successful tiger reintroduction programme. There are over 50 tigers in PTR currently and the reserve also houses leoaprds and ghariyals.
The three accused were identified as — Acchelal, 60, Ghanshyam Kushwaha and Natthu Raikwar, 46 — all residents of Palkoha village, a river island of sorts inside the tiger reserve. Acchelal was the one who cut the tiger’s penis after Ghanshyam, a quack, convinced him that consuming the penis will increase his libido, forest officials of the tiger reserve said.
Natthu, the third accused, beheaded the dead tiger based on the belief that possessing a tiger’s head will be a good omen. Natthu also thought that he could use the head in his fields to scare away herbivores like Nilgai and feral cattle. The accused hid the body parts in the village and had later thrown them in the river when they got wind of the forest department’s investigation.
Sniffer dogs and intelligence collected from locals played a big role in apprehending the suspects, Uttam Sharma, field director of PTR said. The joint team of officers of STF and PTR got information that some residents of Palkoha village had criminal antecedents and officials also informed that Palkoha village has had a history of involvement with dacoits. The team used Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd breed dogs for clues in spots around the village and the river bank.
When the dogs came around the village, the accused panicked and threw away the tiger’s body parts in the Ken River, officials claimed. The sniffer dogs led the joint team on a trail of a dead wild boar that had been poached by another person named Bhagwan Dass, in an unrelated incident. Bhagwan Dass tipped of the team on the three accused, who were later apprehended.
“Acchelal spotted the dead tiger floating in Ken River on August 8 last month and sought help of the other two accused to retrieve it. A farm sickle was likely used to behead the dead tiger and a sharp knife like object was used to cut its penis, Sharma said. Ghyansham, one of the accused is a known quack in the area and he seems to have goaded Acchelal to cut the tiger’s penis, based on superstitious beliefs that consuming it would increase a man’s libido,” Sharma said.
Even though the joint team is yet to recover the farm implements and the body parts from the river, it has recovered tiger hair from the spot where the accused allegedly hid the body parts. The tiger’s hair would be sent for forensic examination and especially to match with the samples collected from the tiger’s carcass during post-mortem. A confession not made before a magistrate is admissible in court under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the law they violated.
The three were charged under various sections of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, relating to concealing information about dead wildlife and a Schedule I species (which is accorded highest protection under the Act) and use of body parts, among others. The accused were to be produced before a local magistrate in Panna, Chhatarpur district, on Friday and the forest department was slated to seek 15 days judicial custody.