Forest officials held a youth who was transporting a dugong poached for its meat in Periapattinam in Ramanathapuram district on Tuesday night.
Keelakarai forest range office received a tip-off about the poaching of a dugong in Periapattinam seashore. The forest department team led by Keezhakarai ranger, S Jayaraman intercepted an autorickshaw on suspicion. They found that two people were taking the dugong after slicing the mammal into three pieces. While one managed to give a slip, the officials caught hold of J Askar Ali (32) from Periapattinam on poaching charges. He was produced before the Ramanathapuram judicial magistrate and was remanded under schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act.
Dugong is a flagship animal of Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park (GoMMNP). Once in abundance, the mammal is now threatened due to habitat loss and poaching, worldwide. The exhaustive fishing activities, especially ecologically destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling destroys the seabed and the sea grass on which the dugong feeds. Though the number of poaching incidents has come down, few pockets in the district around Keezhakarai are notorious for poaching dugong for its meat. "They poach the dugongs for meat and it is priced Rs 600 per kg," a forest official said.
Jayaraman said that they intercepted two people in an autorickshaw carrying the mammal. "We estimated that it could be a three-year-old dugong but the gender of the animal could not be ascertained since the poachers have sliced the entire animal into three pieces. After the investigation, three people are booked in this case including the one remanded and we are looking out for two more people who are absconding," he said.
The forest officials speculated that the dugong could have been caught in the fishing gear but the poachers instead of releasing it back in the sea killed the mammal and sliced into pieces. There is also intentional poaching in the region other than the incidents of the dugongs caught in the fishing gear and killed for meat later, forest department sources said.