BHAWANIPATNA/BHUBANESWAR: In one of the biggest crackdowns on smuggling of wildlife in the State, a joint team of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) and Odisha and Chhattisgarh forest departments busted an inter-state smuggling racket and seized nine big cat skins from Kalahandi in a span of 24 hours on Saturday.
The catch included a tiger and two leopard skins from M Rampur, two leopard hides from Junagarh and four more from Narla, within Kalahandi South and North divisions. Seven persons have been arrested and an investigation is in progress to apprehend more people involved in the inter-state smuggling.
The tiger skin, however, appears suspect as the size and nails on it are relatively small, said Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) Wildlife Sashi Paul. “We are examining and if required will send the sample to the Centre for Wildlife Health at OUAT or forensic lab of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) at Dehradun for confirmation,” he said.
All the seven accused nabbed in this connection are middlemen. While three of them -- Bhuliar Bag, Kodanda Goud and Uanshu Jani -- were apprehended by the joint WCCB and forest teams while they were striking a deal for the sale of the skins in M Rampur and Junagarh area on Friday, four others from the district, were arrested from Narla area on Saturday.
While the crackdown has come as a huge boost to the Forest Department’s enforcement, it has also exposed a worrying factor - poaching of big cats in and across the borders. Odisha Wildlife officials, however, said it hasn’t be ascertained yet as to where these big cats were killed. Leopards are present in Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary as well as Udanti-Sitanadi Tiger Reserve that shares border with Junagarh range, they asserted.
Nine big cat skins seized after raids in Kalahandi
Tracking the link, forest officials conducted raids in the district, they said. It also has put the focus on Kalahandi gradually turning into a hotspot for smuggling of leopard skins and as well as poaching. Raipur is a market for wildlife trophies. Much of the tip-off came from WCCB and Chhattisgarh forest officials who coordinated with Kalahandi North and South forest divisions for raids in M Rampur and Junagarh and arrested three smugglers.
The raid continued by the forest staff in North division in which the remaining four, including one Ranga Charan Bhoi, were apprehended from Bafla village in Narla. Kalahandi (North) DFO Nitish Kumar said, four more persons have been named by the smugglers who are still at large. “Our investigation will continue to arrest the accused who are absconding and to unearth this inter-state poaching and trading link,” he added.
The accused have been booked under various sections of the IPC and Wildlife Protection Act. Forest department sources of Chhattisgarh, however, say a bigger smuggling syndicate could be at work since at least five tiger skins had been seized from Gariabundh area of the neighbouring state in last six months and all the accused were from Kalahandi.