Illegal bushmeat trade alive and well in Krishnagiri’s Sikkarimedu village

After 15 minutes, another villager brought out two subadult monitor lizards, whose legs were tied with copper wire.
An image of one of the two live monitor lizards with their legs tied.
An image of one of the two live monitor lizards with their legs tied.(Photo | Express)

KRISHNAGIRI: The age-old banned practice of hunting wild animals for meat and other body parts continues to be popular in Sikkarimedu, a tribal settlement in Krishnagiri that has a majority population of Narikuravars.

On Saturday, TNIE visited the tribal village along with Antony Rubin Clement, a member of the state board for wildlife, who had received a tip-off regarding the alleged sale of bushmeat in the region.

At 10 am, the team stopped near one Vijay Dhaba, near the entrance to Sikkarimedu on NH 44. Soon, an elderly man, who was seated nearby, approached and identified himself as Sikkandar. Eventually, he asked, in Tamil, if the group was looking for an Udumbu (monitor lizard), a Schedule 1 species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Upon receiving an affirmative response, he escorted the team to the village. After 15 minutes, another villager brought out two subadult monitor lizards, whose legs were tied with copper wire.

The villagers offered to cut, cook and serve the lizard meat, and also provide body massages using oil extracted from the reptiles. They further claimed that drinking the lizards’ blood was good for health, adding that a popular Kannada actor is a regular client of theirs.

Sikkandar told TNIE that people from Bengaluru, Chennai and parts of Andhra Pradesh regularly visit Sikkarimedu for the bushmeat, especially on weekends. Demand for bushmeat is high among couples with infertility issues and people who are into fitness, due to its perceived medicinal value — a notion that experts have struck down as myth.

Despite the Sikkarimedu villagers demanding a huge sum for the two live monitor lizards, Antony managed to convince them, acquire one of the lizards and then exited the village with TNIE.

‘Village notorious for animal trade’

The reptile was safely handed over to Hosur District Forest Officer K Karthikeyani, after the team informed Chief Wildlife Warden Srinivas R Reddy about the incident. Reddy told TNIE that Sikkarimedu is notorious for illegal activities involving wildlife.

“Bushmeat trade usually happens in a discreet manner, through known channels. However, in this case, it is shocking to see the brazenness with which they approached strangers and offered live scheduled animals. We are working on a comprehensive plan along with the state wildlife crime control bureau to deal with the issue,” he said.

DFO Karthikeyani stated that monitor lizards caught in Pudukkottai, Tiruppur and Cuddalore, are brought into Sikkarimedu for sale via public buses. It is a very organised trade, she noted. “We have tried different methods to deter them, including creating alternative livelihoods and empowering the women in the village.

In 2015-16, the state government provided funds to each family in the village to encourage them to seek out a legitimate livelihood and prevent them from hunting wild animals. We installed CCTV cameras, conducted multiple raids, arrested and imposed hefty fines on the accused. Although some change has been observed, there is a section of people which continues to indulge in the illegal trade.

Even two months ago we conducted a joint operation with police personnel and rescued a few monitor lizards from their possession,” Karthikeyani said. Further, she said the villagers caught are small timers. Nadeson, popularly known as Apple, is the kingpin and owns sizable wealth, she claimed.

“He uses village women as human shields when we try to enter the village. All transactions are done in cash leaving no digital footprint. We are working on a strategy to deal with this,” Karthikeyani added.

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