Illegal wildlife trade growing in Mumbai, say authorities

Feb 01, 2016, 12:25 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

Officials feel illegal trade may be thriving as same poachers had killed a leopard last year and sold skin in the city

The arrest of four poachers found with a leopard skin in Dombivli last week now has the Mumbai and Thane forest departments on alert with concerns that illegal wildlife trade could be growing in Mumbai.

Read Story: 7 held for poaching in wildlife sanctuary

This skin was recovered from the four men who were arrested in Dombivli last week
This skin was recovered from the four men who were arrested in Dombivli last week

Investigators learnt that the same poachers had killed another leopard in the same area in Raigad last year and then sold the skin to someone in Mumbai — the fact that this went undetected has the officials worried that poaching and wildlife trade could be thriving on a larger scale in the area.

Last Monday, the Kalyan Crime Branch Unit III, led by its Senior Police Inspector Shailendra Nagarkar along with forest department officials, arrested four tribal people carrying a leopard skin near Dombivli station. The cops had received a tip-off that the four were there to meet a potential buyer for the skin. The four accused — Sandip Shingare (36), Mahadev Varghade (67), Dehu Hamber (42) and Akash Fage (22) – all hail from villages near Pali, in Raigad district. They were booked under Sections 9, 39, 48 (a), 48 (A), 49(B), 50 and 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Senior PI Nagarkar said, “During interrogation, one of the accused confessed that they had killed the leopard near Sudhagad fort in Raigad. One of the accused also confessed that last year, they had killed another leopard and sold the skin to a Mumbai-based customer. We tried getting the details but they failed to give the person’s information.”

The case has been handed over to the Vishnu Nagar police station in Dombivli, and the cops and forest department officials are now on the hunt for the buyer of the first skin. A team of police officials also went to various locations in Raigad this Sunday, to investigate whether more people were involved in the crime.

However, a government expert on wildlife trade and crime said these poachers likely belong to a small racket. “International poaching rackets are well-organised and work through a proper modus operandi. The poachers that were arrested from Dombivli are small-time operators and that is the reason they had to search for a buyer for the leopard skin,” the official said.

An FD official said, “What has shocked us is the fact that they had killed a leopard last year in the same area, and the skin was sold to a buyer in Mumbai.”

The major market for tiger and leopard skins and body parts is in China, where there is huge demand for these products to make the traditional Chinese medicine. However, there is also a demand in India due to a superstitious belief that tiger and leopard skins, claws and teeth and bring luck and prosperity.

Nitin Desai, director (Central India) of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), said, “The case points to the importance of intelligence-based enforcement. Keeping tabs on known poachers’ activities should be part of the protection plan for any forest range. It is sad that poachers are finding buyers for wildlife products among educated urban people. People should desist from buying these products and should report such criminals.”

Poaching at SGNP
>> 2013: Four people were arrested for allegedly trying to sell a leopard skin outside the gate of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park 

>> 2015: In November, the decomposed body of a leopard was found in the Yeoor range of SGNP

>> 2015: In December, a leopard carcass was found near the Shilonda Trail in SGNP in a suspected poaching case. An old injury was found on the right side and the internal organs were punctured. Forensic reports are awaited.

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