By Aishuwarya Sudarshan
Our Forest Watch team received a tip off about a few men in a remote district of Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh, who looked suspicious and were snooping around the village holding a parcel that looked a little fishy.
The district adjacent had a police station and with the help of Wildlife SOS a decoy was primed and was placed in a position that allowed him to monitor the suspects almost at all points of time. The decoy after a few weeks decided that the behaviour and actions of the men indeed merited a closer scrutiny for they were definitely involved in wildlife trade. We formed a larger team now with the help of the police; the TI crime branch was heading the operation. Since the suspects had started trusting the decoy they willingly believed he had a rich buyer willing to pay, so well in fact, that this purchaser would change their lives forever and make them rich. They decided to take a risk and make their next few deliveries to this new customer, and that is when the police swooped in and caught hold of them.
The suspects Ghasia Ram and Ganjada were arrested in â€˜Averi Tirahaâ€™ while they were about to deliver the contraband to our decoy. They were taken to the Soram Bhatgaon Police Station in the adjacent district. The districts that our team was working in were all naxal affected areas which had made the operation twice as risky.
When the police seized the contraband, they found a 5 foot 10 Inch skin of a leopard that the two men were trying to sell. On further interrogation they said that they had poisoned the leopard. It is a common practice among poachers, used to kill the animal, without disfiguring its skin. The men were arrested and the loss of another beautiful cat was mourned. But we are extremely glad that the police supported us during the entire operation.
The Superintendent of Police in Kanker, Mr. Rahul Bhagat says â€œIn spite of Kanker and Dhamtari being naxal affected areas; our crime branch is very sensitive towards wildlife crime issues. We continuously get information on wildlife crime and always give it priority, because this isnâ€™t only about our district but a species we are talking about.â€
It is terrible that wildlife crime has increased in the last couple of years. Our anti-poaching officer Meetu Gupta says that they have seized more than 25 leopard skins since 2009 only from Kanker and a neighbouring district in Chhattisgarh.
Most people believed the forest is safe because of the naxals, but actually the naxal attacks have made it easier for wildlife crime to take place and be covered up because they are invariably areas difficult to patrol or access.
The case against the two men was booked under different sections of the WPA 1972(Sections 2, 9, 39, 49, 50, 51). All that WSOS and the police can do now is present the case in court and keep our fingers crossed hoping that wildlife crime does reduce sooner than later.