Raipur: A tiger-killing incident in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district late last year has taken an uglier turn, with police officers suspecting that not only were the apex predator’s hide and body parts possessed and traded illegally, but villagers may also have consumed some of its flesh.
If confirmed, this will be the first instance of tiger flesh being eaten in Chhattisgarh, a senior police officer told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, two assistant sub-inspectors of police, five constables, three health department officials and a school headmaster are among those arrested for being involved in the illegal trade of the tiger hide, after a joint ‘decoy’ operation conducted by the police and forest departments on 12 March.
While the Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972 doesn’t specifically mention any provisions on possession or consumption of tiger meat, Section 51 speaks of penalty provisions against hunting or killing animals categorised under Schedule I of the Act. An accused can be jailed for a minimum for three years and a maximum of seven years, along with a fine of Rs 10,000. Animals like tiger, lion, leopard and elephant are part of Schedule I of the act.
‘Elders ate tiger flesh’
The senior police officer said that two local residents had, on interrogation, confessed to killing the tiger accidentally. The men, Budhru Kunjam, 31, and Bhima Ilami, 27, from Parapur village, had laid a trap to kill wild pigs in the Bacheli forest range in August 2020. However, in December, a tiger from Indravati Tiger Reserve got stuck in the trap. When the villagers found the big cat trapped, they went back home and returned two or three days later to find it dead.
The officer said the animal was then skinned and its hide and some body parts were in the villagers’ possession, but added that a few elders of Parapur village had consumed the flesh of the three-year-old tiger. The police is investigating the matter.
“Apparently, the villagers ate tiger meat, considering it like any other feast, unaware of the impact of tiger killing. They were completely ignorant of the gravity of the situation. The tiger meat was apparently cooked and eaten by a few elderly persons, but we’re investigating further to verify their statements,” the official said.
Another police officer of the Bastar range said: “Tiger meat was probably consumed by the villagers.”
Chhattisgarh’s Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), Wildlife, Mohammad Shahid, said tiger flesh pieces were recovered from Budhru and Bhima’s homes, but didn’t confirm the consumption of the meat.
Deepak Jha, superintendent of police in neighbouring Jagdalpur, where the arrests related to this case took place, told ThePrint when asked about the consumption of tiger meat: “We have received inputs about this, and it’s being investigated if the villagers consumed tiger meat or not.”
Omkar Khandwa, a Raipur-based nutritionist and professor at Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, told ThePrint that while eating tiger flesh would be an unusual event, it was not much different to consuming other kinds of meat.
“It may be unheard of, but eating tiger flesh will have no harmful impact on those who have eaten it, if cooked well. It’s no different to any other meat we all eat. The effects will be similar to other meat like pork, goat or chicken,” Khandwa said.
Besides the main accused Budhru and Ilami, the police have so far arrested 12 others, including two ASIs, Santosh Baghel and Ramesh Aganpalli, posted in Bijapur district police lines.
Others arrested include five police constables, three health department employees, a school headmaster from Bastar, Rameshwar Sonwani, and another man who acted as a conduit between the villagers and Sonwani.
CCF Shahid himself led a joint operation of the forest department and the police early on 12 March to arrest the policemen and health department employees, who were going to perform puja and tantric rituals at Jagdalpur’s Danteshwari Temple. All the other arrests were made by the next day.
According to police sources, the arrested conduit, who has not been named, informed headmaster Sonwani that Budhru and Bhima possessed tiger skin. Sonwani, in turn, told one of the arrested constables, who informed ASIs Baghel and Aganpalli, who then paid Budhru and Bhima Rs 50,000, and planned to trade it further.
The operation to arrest these individuals began after an informer tipped off the forest department. Bastar range IG Sundarraj P. and CCF Shahid constituted a joint team to catch the culprits, which acted as a ‘decoy’ and contacted the ASIs and one of the constables that it had a ‘Baba’ (tantric practitioner) who could perform a puja with tiger skin to bring the prosperity.
The team managed to persuade the men, who offered to come for the puja to the Danteshwari temple on the morning of 12 March, leading to their arrest.
Jagdalpur SP Jha said: “The arrested police ASIs and constables had tainted records in the past as well. They were engaged in similar practices and were also warned.”
IG Sundarraj added: “Tiger hide was not used for trade. They were trying to perform puja for invoking prosperity as a part of their superstitious belief, but involvement of policemen was sad. All the accused have been arrested. Severe action will be taken against policemen involved under the Wild Life (Protection) Act and other provisions of the law, so that it becomes a deterrent for others.”
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)