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Tiger killing in Goa haunts green journalist from Goa Special

By Armstrong Vaz     Feb 23, 2010 in Environment
Panjim - It was a cry in the wild, which has travelled much beyond the boundaries of Keri village situated near the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary.
Last year’s tiger killing in Goa, some 60 kilometers from the state capital Panaji, would have gone unnoticed, but for green journalist Rajendra Kerkar.
One man ensured to give the killed tiger justice. Kerkar’ scoop of a tiger being killed in Goa, published in the Times of India, India’s largest selling newspaper, along with a photograph on April 13, 2009, which got the authorities cracking.
But, the tiger killing continues to haunt Kerkar till this date. The messenger of the story has since been hounded. Kerkar has been made an abettor in the tiger killing case by the Goa Forest department and will faces his charges in court in the coming days. At stake for Kerkar, an environment campaigner is his stubbornness to defend his source as a journalist, from where and from whom he got the pictures of the tiger killing.
The newspaper for which he works, reported from the investigation documents that Kerkar has been made an abettor as he did not reveal his source of information, terming it a “secret source”.
“He had to be made abettor as he was not cooperating with the officers. Initially for almost one-and-half-months, we were scouting through vast jungle to get a clue based on the photograph carried in the newspaper,” the paper said quoting a unnamed Goa Forest department official.
“Whatever information I had, I have passed it on to them in writing and orally. If they want to ask me how it was killed, I don’t have the machinery to find out those details. I even provided them volunteers to help trace the site. The charge is politically motivated,” the renowned wild life enthusiast has been quoted as saying in the paper.
“The top officials of Forest Department of Goa under the pressure of the local powerful politicians named me as one of the abettor in the case, when I have submitted to them the photo, which I published in the newspaper and whatever confirmed information I was having, regarding the incident. The abettor charge is totally ridiculous,” said Kerkar.
Suryakant Majik and Gopal Majik, residents of Majikwaddo of Sattari Taluka have been charged as accused in the killing. Gopal, incidentally has a criminal history of poaching wild animals.
Increasing population, destruction of forested areas due to mining and settlement zones is causing habitat reduction to the wild animals. What follows is the increase in human versus animal conflicts in the hinterland of Goa and the wild cats intrusions into human settlements.
From around 40,000 at the turn of the last century, there are just 1411 tigers left in India. What started as a Royal Sport during the olden times is now a target of poaching and depleting habitat in the rest of India. Our National Animal is fighting for its life, says the website.
Poaching of prey-base animals like the Barking Deer, Sambar Deer, Mouse Deer, Wild Boar is not a new story for villagers staying on the fringes of forest sanctuaries in Goa. They routinely set traps and hunt animals with illegal guns. Snares like wire traps are used to catch the animal.
And it was the case of the tiger walking into a wire trap laid by the villagers for a deer. What followed was most barbaric. If in China and some other parts of India, the wild cat which is also the national animal of India, is poached for its body parts and skin to cater to an illegal market, in Goa the poachers had no such plans, so they shot dead the injured tiger and allowed its carcass to rot.
It was only after the photograph emerged that they burned the carcass to destroy evidence.
Kerkar who has been campaigning for several environment related issues says the Western Ghats is an abode of the tigers.
“There is ample evidence available proving the presence of tiger (Panthera Tigris) in the forest of Goa,”,a former Portuguese colony know internationally for its beach tourism and mining.
“From the last many years, wild life campaigners from Goa have been fighting to get official recognition to the presence of tiger from the Forest department, only to be stone walled. Nothing concrete have been done to identify any areas as the natural habitat for the tigers.
“The last wildlife census confirmed the presence of five tigers in Goa, the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) Shashi Kumar, says that tigers are not there in Goa, which is not the ground reality,” says Kerkar.
“Once this area was the finest habitat but the construction of Anjunem Irrigation Project and Panaji – Belgaum road via Chorla Ghat posed threat to the tiger. Also increasing area under the cashew plantation created problem for the wild animals. As the population of herbivorous animals is decreasing mainly on account of poaching; the wild animals are disturbed in this areas and there is no exception to the tigers in Sattari. The tiger which was killed roamed in Keri and surrounding areas and many times entered human settlement. Since the villagers were familiar with the presence of tiger, they were afraid of the roaming tiger.
This eventually led to killing the tiger by trapping,” says Kerkar.
There is more that meets the eye. The top officials of the Goa Forest Department are having vested interest in declaring that tigers do not live in Goa forests. The highly influential mining industry in Goa is trying to ensure that the forest department does not make a strong case for a tiger reserve in Goa
Declaring Goa as tiger reserve will be a death knell for the Rs.4000 crore mining industry in Goa, which are located in the dense Shayyadri forests that make up Goa’s hinterland.
Claude Alvares, a nationally renowned green campaigner, said that the state government wanted to cover up the tiger killing at the behest of the highly influential mining industry in Goa, according to an IANS report.
“The implication of a tiger reserve in Goa is difficult to accept for everyone, especially to the mining lobby. Dr Shashi Kumar is not interested in sustaining the forest. He is interested in sustaining mining,” Alvares said.
Goa is India's smallest state—spread over 3,70,200 ha—it accounts for just 0.11 per cent of India's geographical area. It is, however, one of India's leading producers of iron and manganese: four per cent of India's iron ore reserves and eight per cent of its manganese ore reserves are in Goa
Many groups have started groups to save the tiger from extinction in the Year of the Tiger.
'Mission Green', a group of wildlife enthusiasts, has started a campaign in the form of an e-letter to save the tiger from extinction.
Tiger numbers are dwindling across the country and Goa is not far behind. The recent episode of a tiger killing in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary region is no longer a secret. It is a known fact that tigers have been spotted regularly in this region and are resident here, recent evidence proving the presence of a tigress and its cub, the petition reads.
“The Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Sattari Taluka of North Goa. Spread over 208 sq km, this sanctuary is contiguous with the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, Cotigao
Wildlife Sanctuary and the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary all in Goa and is part of the Western Ghats. The contiguous forests of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra encompassing the wildlife sanctuaries of Goa, the Anshi Tiger Reserve and reserve forests of Karnataka and the reserve forests of Dodamarg in Maharashtra have been acknowledged as Tiger Conservation Units (TCU) Mark II by WWF International. This region is part of the Western Ghats landscape and is now regarded as a Global Biodiversity Hotspot as well as an area of High Endemism by Conservation International, “ adds the petition.
Conservation groups at the national level have enlisted the support of sports stars and celebrities to save the tiger from extinction.
India national team captains in cricket and football Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Bhaichung Bhutia, are two of them as more than 75,000 people have pledge their support in saving the tiger.
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