Panaji: After years of constantly rejecting the notion that Goa's forests are home to tigers, forest officials this week finally admitted to seeing the striped beast for the first time. Camera's equipped with motion sensors laid out at strategic locations in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, 70 kms from here, captured a full grown tiger near a spot where it had slain a wild boar.
Wildlife officials said that the operation stretched on for almost a fortnight, with the majestic beast eluding the cameras everytime, until Friday.
"Our informer tipped us off that a wild boar has been killed in one location in the northwest side of sanctuary. Accordingly we started tracking and finally got the pugmarks of a tiger," senior range forest officer Paresh Parab told IANS. "We were tracking this tiger since April 9," he added.
The Mhadei sanctuary, like the Netravali and Bhagwan Mahaveer sanctuaries, has several open cast iron ore mines located in its vicinity.
For decades now, wildlife activists have alleged that the forest department had been systematically trying to deny the presence of the tiger in Goa's forests, which could have repercussions on the state's multi-billion dollar iron ore mining industry.
"It is beyond doubt that these forests were always a home for tigers. The forest officials have denied this because the presence of tigers mean setting up of a reserve. And that in turn would mean mining has to stop in those areas," said activist Rajendra Kerkar, who first documented tiger poaching in the same sanctuary in 2009.
But the mining ban since last October has changed the scene somewhat. So has the appointment of Richard D'Souza as the principal conservator of forests for Goa a little more than a year ago.
D'Souza was the architect of the Mhadei sanctuary, which was notified amongst much political opposition over a decade ago.
Underlining the importance of the visuals of the tiger caught on camera, D'Souza said it could go a long way in convincing the central government to upgrade the Mhadei sanctuary to a wildlife reserve.
"We did have some indirect evidence in the form of big animals being brought down by a tiger. Some pug marks too. But this is in the face, direct irrefutable evidence," an elated D'Souza said.
Quite in contrast to his predecessor Shashi Kumar, who had rejected the tiger-in-Goa's-forests premise, saying the beast's presence in Goa was at best "migratory" from other contiguous forest reserves in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
The question was more or less answered in a tragic manner after one male tiger was snared in a trap laid by hunters for wildboar in the Mhadei sanctuary.
The tiger snared himself in the metal noose and his attempts to break loose only resulted in the wire tightening around his belly, resulting in a deep gash. The tiger's wails brought the hunters to the spot, who put the animal out of its misery by shooting it dead.
While the poachers were arrested, the case is still pending in court.