‘Wilderness Days’, the wildlife photo exhibition put up by Raheja Productions in Delhi last week was an exhibition with a difference. Yes, it did showcase our natural wonders – as one would have expected. But for its theme, it picked up the issue which is still burning a hole in the hearts of wildlife lovers all across India and even abroad.
The issue concerns the sudden and mysterious death of a young tigress – now fondly remembered as Jhurjhura tigress – in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh’s Bandhavgarh National Park last year.
The death of Jhurjhura tigress has brought into sharp relief the archaic, and largely ineffective, wildlife laws which ensure that the culprits escape with minimal penalty. It has also turned out to be a litmus test for our conservation efforts, and the way we govern our dwindling wildlife.
To recap the tragic story and its ongoing ripple effects: The young tigress, mother of three small cubs, was found dead in a water-hole at Jhurjhura area of Bandhavgarh on May 19, 2010. Autopsy revealed that it had died of internal haemorrhage. Circumstantial evidence revealed that it was hit by a vehicle carrying a few powerful politicians of Madhya Pradesh, along with some forest officials of Bandhavgarh.
Initial attempts by vested interests to hush up the tigress’ death proved futile. This particular tigress had become wildlife photographers’ delight, and within days hundreds of social networking sites were screaming murder – demanding immediate arrests and punishment to the guilty.
From May 19 onwards, the park’s field director C K Patil pitched his camp in the area, supervising investigations from all possible angles. In June end, following Patil’s strong recommendations, the state government handed over the case to the CID.
It was a heroic decision – when did you last hear of CID probing a tiger’s death?
Unfortunately, the case is dragging on. As one would have feared, efforts are still on to derail the investigations. Last heard, the CID was in the process of fine-tuning the charge sheet.The outcome of the issue would be crucial from several points of view. For one, the accused are no ordinary poachers or pot-hunters – they are people with right connections in the corridors of power. A clear-cut conviction – Mr Patil and the entire forest staff of Bandhavgarh are waiting for one – would effectively set the cat among the pigeons fattened by political and bureaucratic patronage.