Mumbai: Sanjay Gandhi National Park team joins race to rescue cubs

Updated: Nov 15, 2018, 21:27 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav | Mumbai

Known for its successful rescues of leopards in city, it will help Yavatmal Forest Division trap T1's young ones

APCCF, Wildlife Sunil Limaye (seated first on the left) with SGNP team members led by Veterinary Officer Dr Shailesh Pethe (in grey t shirt), Vaibhav Patil (wearing a red and black jacket), Raja Bhoir (seated, in uniform) and Sandeep Gaikwad (standing, in uniform next to him) along with Yavatmal Forest Division officials
APCCF, Wildlife Sunil Limaye (seated first on the left) with SGNP team members led by Veterinary Officer Dr Shailesh Pethe (in grey t shirt), Vaibhav Patil (wearing a red and black jacket), Raja Bhoir (seated, in uniform) and Sandeep Gaikwad (standing, in uniform next to him) along with Yavatmal Forest Division officials

The operation to rescue the cubs of tigress T1 has gathered pace, as a leopard rescue team of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) has reached Pandharkawda. The team, which has rescued leopards in and around Mumbai during human-animal conflicts, was called in by the Yavatmal Forest Division to rescue the cubs of T1, also called Avni.

Sources have told mid-day that though controversial hunter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan and his son, Asghar, who shot dead T1, gave their statements to a National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)-appointed committee on Wednesday, they had not submitted the gun was used in the killing, for forensic tests.

The SGNP team headed by Veterinary Officer Dr Shailesh Pethe reached Yavatmal on Wednesday. Assistant Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (APCCF), Wildlife, Sunil Limaye said, "Our efforts to track and safely rescue both the cubs are on war footing and already more than 150 people from the forest department are monitoring the movement of the cubs not just by foot patrolling and combing operation, but they are also in touch with villagers who provide us with the latest information. We have kept bait in secondary cages along with pieces of meat at many locations for the cubs to feed on."

Few days back, expert veterinarian Dr Ajay Deshmukh from the NGO Wildlife SOS, which has rescued many leopards and reunited more than 50 leopard cubs with their mothers in Junnar district in Maharashtra, had also visited the area and sources from FD told mid-day that he too will join the operation.

Members of the SGNP team include Pethe, Vaibhav Patil, Raja Bhoir and Sandeep Gaikwad. "We have just done a recce of the area and the strategy is being planned based on the direct or indirect evidence we get regarding the cubs. It's a huge area with difficult terrain and a proper strategy will be drawn considering all this," said Pethe. It is also said that pugmarks of the cubs were seen on Wednesday near a village and the FD is investigating this.

Weapon not submitted yet?
The NTCA appointed-committee instituted to inquire into the death of T1 is in Pandharkawda and has already recorded the statements of those involved in the operation to trap her including Mukbir Shaikh, a forest department employee who allegedly fired the tranquiliser dart before she was supposedly shot by Asghar.

Sources from the FD sais that the Nawab and Asghar also recorded their statements before the committee. A source from FD said, "The Nawab and Asghar have recorded their statements but not deposited the weapon with the ballistic division giving some reason for not doing so."

No response from Nawab
Nawab did not respond to messages by this reporter asking if the weapon was given to the Forensic Department.

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