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Forest officials employed known poachers to guard waterholes
Forest department officials have arrested five persons in connection with a tiger poaching incident in the buffer zone of the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in Maharashtra's Chandrapur district. The tiger carcass was found cut into pieces near village Borda in mid-May. Three of accused were known to the forest department officials. Mangorao Todase, the leader of the gang, and his two sons, Prakash and Swarup, were deployed by the department to monitor and guard water holes in the jurisdiction of Forest Development Corporation of Maharshtra (FDCM). They were hired for the job even though the officials knew of their involvement in wildlife crimes earlier.
All the accused are residents of village Ghanta Chowki near Borda. Todase has earlier been arrested for possessing tiger skin and other wildlife crimes. “We had information about their involvement in petty wildlife crimes. They were deployed only for a month. We cannot comment on the matter till the investigations are on,” said divisional forest officer of West Chanda division with FDCM, B T Bhagat.
Todase and his sons were employed by officials to guard and monitor waterholes following the red alert sounded by the state government in May about movements of poachers’ gangs in the region. The other accused have been identified as Rambhau and Ashok Gawade.
Sources said that informers tipped the forest department officials about Todase after seeing him with a dead tiger in the deep forest on May 16. “When the informers happened to pass by the area, they saw Todase sitting near a waterhole and the body of a full grown tiger lying nearby. Todase threatened them with dire consequences when they drew near,” a senior forest department official said.
Divisional forest officer (territorial) Kalyan Kumar said the accused have confessed to killing several herbivores in the past. “We recovered many antlers and snares from their houses during the raid. However, they have not yet said anything about their involvement in poaching the tiger found near Borda.” He said though there is ample evidences confirming regular poaching of herbivores by the accused, there is no evidence of their involvement in tiger poaching. “We are interrogating the accused since there are records that Mangorao Todase was arrested in 1990 for possessing a tiger skin. He was later acquitted in the case, but that does not exonerate him,” Kumar said. Rambhau and Ashok also confessed to laying snares in the forest to kill deer and wild boar.
Two other poaching attempts were reported from the tiger reserve earlier on April 26 when two tigers were found trapped; one of them died in the trap while another was taken to Nagpur for treatment.