When Tiger Watch set out to try to stop poaching, the organization's small staff asked a simple question: Who actually kills tigers?
Here in Ranthambhore, the organization soon established that while a whole network of illegal wildlife dealers were involved, the killing was almost always done by the Moghiya, a clan of semi-nomadic hunters.
The Moghiya were once game trackers for India's royal houses; traditionally they worked as guards to keep wild animals out of farm fields. But there is little money in any of that these days; the land they once hunted is now protected park, and they own no land of their own to farm.
"Now it takes me four months to grow our food, when it used to take me 10 minutes," muttered Bhujan Moghiya, a lean 38-year-old who makes $1,100 a year sharecropping wheat.
He also has another line of work. In the right company, Mr. Moghiya admits to killing a tiger, in 2004. His father and brothers have all hunted tigers, too.
They hide in a tree, and shoot a passing tiger in the left shoulder, explained his older brother Govind. Then they slice open the skin, peel it off, remove the bones, and bury the rest of the flesh, save for a few parts they take home to eat. They patch over the bullet hole using a repair kit for bike tires, a bit of glue and tufts of fur. A large tiger is worth about $5,000 to them, although they have to spread the money between six or seven hunters, and others to keep their mouths shut.
The Moghiya still spend their days in the park; in fact, they live in it, in rough brick and twig structures thrown up in the scrubby brush. The Forest Service patrols frequently go past, said Mr. Moghiya - they know they are there. But they don't bother them, except to slap down occasional fines when they find them with a freshly killed boar or antelope.
It's not enough to stop them from tiger hunting - "There is no fear of the department, we could do it now easily" - but there is fear of Tiger Watch, which, he said, would land them all in jail.
Tiger Watch uses small payments - about $70 regular monthly payments to four men in this area, and one-off payments to anyone else who brings in useful information - to encourage them to let the organization know about any hunting. The suspicion they have sown is the best deterrent to hunting, said Dharmendra Khandal, head of Tiger Watch.
At the same time, the organization built a dormitory so that Moghiya children can attend a school in town, and are teaching Moghiya men and women to do tailoring and other handicrafts to give them an alternate income. When Dr. Khandal's staff hears about someone in trouble - badly in debt to a moneylender, or struggling to pay a daughter's dowry - Tiger Watch will step in with a payment, seeking to quench the poaching incentive. "This is the key to stopping it," Dr. Khandal said.
All of it leaves the Moghiya bitter. "This is a hobby of government," Mr. Moghiya said. "So tourists come - it's good for them, but it's not good for us. It's a total loss for us … Why does government care so much about tigers?"Report Typo/Error