Leopard claw seizures a worrying trend for Indian wildlife.
Two persons from a nomadic tribe were arrested with 21 leopard claws from Trimbakeshwar near Nasik in Central India, last Saturday, by the Maharashtra Forest Department assisted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare-Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI) team.
The accused have been booked under various provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. They have been remanded to police custody until October 20 by a Sessions Court in Nasik.
Information had been obtained from local sources about some members of the Baheliya (aka phasa Pardhi locally) tribe in possession of wildlife articles. This was immediately conveyed to the State Forest Wildlife Division and the Regional Forest Unit.
“We had obtained some information about a group of Baheliya tribespeople camping in Trimbakeshwar, possessing leopard claws,” said the IFAW-WTI operative who passed on information to the authorities.
An investigation team was dispatched by the Deputy Conservator of Forests - Anita Patil. The group in Trimbakeshwar was put under surveillance. The team found that three members of the group possessed around 21 leopard claws, and were strategically looking for buyers.
An operation was carried out. Two persons - Dhyaneshwar Bhagwan Bhosale (35) and Tulashi Dhyaneshwar Bhosale (20) were apprehended, while one escaped and is still absconding.
“Soon after the arrest, all members of the group that had camped in the area disappeared without a trace,” the operative added.
A few months earlier, in June, the Maharashtra Forest Department had arrested three suspects from the same tribe in Nagpur in connection with a tiger poaching case from a nearby forest. Here too, the tribes people had camped as nomadic traders, and following the seizure disappeared from the scene.
Whether the entire group was involved in the crime or did they escape from these areas fearing victimisation following these arrests, would be crucial information to decipher, the operative added.
Following interrogation of the arrested people in Nagpur, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau arrested a trader by the name of Sarju along with his gang as they were smuggling tiger parts from Uttarakhand to New Delhi. The gang was found to be extremely well-connected with various illegal wildlife trader gangs and employing tribes people in a number of Indian states, and even reaching Nepal.
“We are trying to study a number of things, but indications are that the nexus seems to be strengthening and becoming more complex. We would do well to watch out,” he added.
Leopards are protected under Indian law, they are listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Killing and trading in leopard parts can result in up to seven years of prison in India.
Leopards are traditionally sought for their pelts which are generally exported out of the country. Their bones may find use in traditional medicine in Asian markets and the claws are used as amulets for "good fortune" based on superstitions and traditions within India.
About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter