By Nikhil M Ghanekar
The Mumbai crime branch’s decoy operation on Monday may be the first time in the city that the trading of a leopard skin has come to light. It is not yet known where the leopard was killed.
According to crime branch officials, the two alleged poachers, arrested for selling a leopard skin for Rs4.5 lakh in front of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) have been identified as Prashant Patel, 26, and Tushar Bagwe, 20. They are the sons of SGNP staffers Kannu Patel and Tanaji Bagwe.
“The incident is shocking. Usually, around 25 forest guards are part of the vigilance team that patrols park areas during the night, so it is not easy to carry out poaching activities. However, we will conduct an inquiry among our staffers and call in our local sources for questioning,” said Sunil Limaye, director, SGNP.
Though leopards are not endangered as a species, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, has given them the Schedule I species status, according them the highest protection. The SGNP houses approximately 22 leopards.
Wildlife expert Vidya Athreya, who has been working on the project Mumbaikars for SGNP and Leopards, which aims to reduce man-animal conflict, said, “We have been interacting with tribals to increase awareness about the leopard. After this incident, they need to become the park’s eyes and ears and report anti-social elements who might be involved in poaching.”
Other activists said security around the park needs to be beefed up as it is spread across an area of 103 sq km, making it porous for anti-social elements.
“The park has many entry points which need to be guarded well to prevent such poaching incidents in future. Increasing the security around these points may deter poachers,” said Krushna Tiwari, wildlife activist.
Police are looking at whether the four accused have been previously involved in the sale of animals and animal skin as their informer has told them that the group has also sold snakes, rabbits and other animals.
The four have been booked under sections 39 and 51 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. They have no previous criminal record and will be produced in court on Tuesday.