'Prince's missing snout was chopped off by poachers'

'Prince's missing snout was chopped off by poachers'

Poachers chopped off the snout of the famed tiger, Prince, and took out its precious canines shortly after the animal starved to death in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in March, forest officials say.

A forest guard stumbled upon a part of the snout while patrolling the Lokkere beat of the BTR’s Kundakere range on Thursday evening. An examination later showed that the chopped snout was of 11-year-old Prince whose sudden death has grieved wildlife conservationists.

The find led to rumours that the animal was poached and did not die a natural death. The Forest Department was quick to dispel the rumours and has reiterated that the animal’s death was not unnatural.

Nevertheless, forest officials are aghast at the brazen manner in which poachers made off with the animal’s canines which, along with tiger bones, are highly valued in the international wildlife trade. A forest official, who would not be quoted, said thieves used either sickle or axe to snap the snout before guards could find the carcass.

Strangely, forest officials who were baffled by the missing snout and the canines upon finding the carcass on April 2 didn’t care to comb the area. The snout has been sent to the Institute of Animal Health and Veterinary Biologicals, Bengaluru, for examination.

Kishan Singh Sugara, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), said the tiger had lost some of its canines to old age and during territorial fights.

Nagaraj D N, senior veterinary officer, BTR, who did the post-mortem, said, “When the carcass came to the post-mortem table, the upper part of the jaw was missing. This was mentioned in the post-mortem report. The animal had died a natural death and there was no chemical substance around its broken face.”

Noted tiger scientist K Ullas Karanth said that going by the photographic evidence, it was obvious that the animal’s snout was chopped off after it died. He said the case was not the first of a kind but dismissed the suggestion that the animal was killed with a meat bomb.

Sugara said the tiger was not poisoned to death. “But there certainly was some mischief. An FIR has been registered and the case is being investigated under the Wildlife Protection Act,” he said.

Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest C Jayaram said the animal starved to death but refused to comment further until the forensic reports came. Wildlife conservationists have, however, accused the Forest Department of “hiding” the truth from the public.

“Why did they hide the fact about the missing snout while announcing the tiger’s death? Although it’s a natural death, the department has come under unnecessary suspicion,” wildlife activist Joseph Hoover said.

Bandipur Project Tiger Director T Hiralal denied the allegation and said a report on the missing part was submitted to the government and senior officials. “We are investigating how could someone enter the core forest area and commit the crime,” he said.

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