Readers may recall that this year
started on a dismal note for Corbett, with as many as six tuskers
being expertly killed by a poaching gang operating within the core
areas of the park. If recent memory serves one right, there
had never been such a concerted onslaught of elephant poaching
anywhere in India, as was mounted on the hapless wild elephants of
Corbett Tiger Reserve during January & February this year. The modus
operandi, and the rapidity with which the poachers were able to strike
at elephants deep within the reserve, was proof enough that they were
quite skilled in their gruesome craft. They undoubtedly had a clear
lay of the terrain as well as the requisite firepower, since it took
them less than three hours to shoot an elephant, follow its death
trail, and then hack away its tusks.
It all started in October
2000 when one elephant was killed near Gairal, in the northern part of
the Reserve. No one took that incident as the precursor of the carnage
that was to follow. Taking a cue from the lack of any worthwhile
enforcement, the poachers struck again in the last week of December
2000, killing two male elephants in quick succession - one in the Jhirna
range and the other near Bijrani. They then followed it up by killing
three more tuskers within the first ten days of February.
poachers were not countered with any successful enforcement measures.
Although the park was closed to visitors and a huge combing operation
launched, not a single poacher could be nabbed. In the initial
confusion, even the method employed in killing the elephants was not
properly established. This was obvious in media reports, where the cause
of the pachyderms’ death was ascribed to ingestion of ‘nails & shrapnel’
reportedly fed by the poachers to the elephants concealed in balls of
wheat flour laced with jaggery. One wondered even at that time how an
intelligent and ‘masticating’ animal like the elephant could be fed with
such a ‘loaded’ meal, however enticingly it may have been camouflaged.
But the reports were graphic in their description of shrapnel found in
the elephants’ dung, and blood trails on the forest paths, caused by
rectal bleeding of the unfortunate animals whose intestines were all cut
up presumably by the hardware they had eaten. Other possible causes –
like poison or gun, were either not looked for, or even considered.
It was only the
postmortem examination of the latter victims which helped in
ascertaining that the death blow was delivered by a poisoned steel rod
approximately 7 cm long, shaped like a file fixed in a wooden base.
Fired from a muzzle-loading gun, the metal rod generated enough velocity
to penetrate the muscle tissues. The elephants fled on being hit, but
the debilitating effects of the poison ensured that they did not make
much ground before dying. The poachers followed and hacked away at the
face after cutting away the trunk, to extract every inch of the tusks
from their base.
I am sure
that this gruesome photograph of a gentle forest giant, killed and
maimed by poachers just for a few kilos of ivory, will bring out in
stark detail, the horror and vileness which is being perpetrated on our
wildlife by poachers all over the country. If it helps to motivate even
a single member of the services, the judiciary or the public at large to
join the fight to save our last remaining forests and wildlife, this
elephant may not have died in vain.