The death of a translocated big cat is shrouded in mystery but there is a possibility of poisoning, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said on Wednesday as he indicated that more heads may roll in the wake of the incident.
"Both the Central and State governments have failed in saving the animal. Yet it appears to be a mystery. No bullet wound (was found)... I think there is a very preponderant possibility of poisoning," Ramesh said as he visited the sanctuary amidst the controversy over the government's tiger revival plan.
The minister said he had arrived at the conclusion after talking to villagers and experts at the site.
"It (poisoning) clearly seems to be the gut feeling of most of the people," he said.
The death of the male tiger, which happened to be the first one to be relocated in Sariska in 2008, seems to have been shrouded in mystery with the state forest officials claiming that the post-mortem report has not detected any unnatural substance.
However, they said that the decomposed body was detected almost 72 hours after the death and some of the vital organs like tongue were missing.
Taking responsibility for the "shocking" and "disturbing" incident which has cast doubts over the tiger translocation programme functioning, he said, "I placed my faith in a lot of young officers who were posted here but they clearly did not fulfill their responsibility."
Experts from Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) under whose supervision the translocation was undertaken two years ago also came under direct attack from the minister who said that even when there were no radio signals about the whereabouts of the tiger for the last two weeks they slept over it.
"I placed my faith in the WII, which is under my ministry. They have also not come up to expectation
"For two weeks there was no radio signal (from the radio-collars of the tiger). They (officials) should have alerted us. If radio signals were weak, we should have had GPS (global positioning systems) but not radio monitoring," Ramesh noted.
Rajasthan government on Tuesday suspended two officials of Sariska reserve forest on the charge of dereliction of duty, which led to the death of a tiger there.
Brushing aside the criticism of the tiger translocation process, Ramesh said, "The show must go on. We must continue with the programme. I hope we will not have recurrence of such incident."
In the wake of the death of the tiger, a section of conservationists have questioned the tiger revival plan pointing faults in the process. Over ten villages inside the Sariska sanctuary were a possible cause of threat to the wildlife, Ramesh said, adding the translocation itself was not going to work and steps must be taken to accelerate the relocation of villagers.
The decision came after Ramesh undertook a day-long tour of Sariska to review the steps taken by the state government for protection of the remaining tigers there.
In this regard, he said, "I have assured Rajasthan government of Rs 30 crore this fiscal year. We need to strengthen the field administration. My ministry has already doubled the allowance of field staff as an incentive."
To make the big cat habitats inviolate, the centre is offering Rs 10 lakhs or housing facilities to the villagers to encourage them to move out from the 39 tiger sanctuaries across the country.