By Anuradha Mascarenhas
The forest officials of Panvel subdivision have recently arrested nine persons who were caught trying to sell a leopard skin near Matheran hill station.
Krishna Allurkar, Assistant Conservator of Forests, Panvel, told The Indian Express that following a tip-off a decoy was sent to bargain the price of the leopard skin. A raid was then conducted on December 27 at Daand Phata on the Panvel-Pune stretch of NH 4 where two persons were caught trying to sell the poached leopard’s skin for Rs 1.5 lakh.
Their arrest led the team to other accused.
“Our investigation found that the poachers, mainly from Khalapur teshil in Raigad district, sprayed pesticide Endosulfan on a goat that was used as a bait to trap the leopard,” said Allurkar. They killed one adult female and two cub leopards by poisoning them, he added.
However, the poachers were able to skin only one leopard, as the other two were destroyed due to the poisoning. The forest officials also seized nails of the leopard, two motorbikes and four mobile phones from the nine — Satish Ware (22), Ravi Bengad (23), Lahu Bengad (24), Anant Daroda (22), Deepak Doiphode (32), Bharat Karande (33), Bharat Choudhary (30), Hari Hindode and Bhima Veer. They are now in magisterial custody.
The leopard population is already under threat due to the thriving illegal trade of skins and body parts.
The Wildlife Protection Society of India has estimated that at least 3,189 leopards have been killed since 1994 and that for every tiger skin there are at least seven leopard skins in the haul. Allurkar said the leopard, the scientific name of which is Panthera pardus, is a sub-species classified as ‘near threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature since 2008. The species may soon qualify for ‘vulnerable’ status due to habitat loss and heavy poaching for illegal trade of skins and body parts in Asia. “They are becoming increasingly rare,” said Allurkar.
Wildlife habitat assessment from Jan 16
The once-in-four-years exercise to assess the wildlife habitat across the country will get under way from January 16 – 23. Sunil Limaye, Chief Conservator of Forests, Pune, told The Indian Express that while each and every animal would not be counted, like in a census, this exercise would monitor the predator, co-predator and herbivorous and wild animal population across the country. Four years ago, there was a presence of 360 tigers in the central India landscape that includes high profile reserves such as Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench and Tadoba-Andhari. In Maharashtra, the number was 103 in 2006 and 169 in 2010. “We expect the number to be around 200 now,” said Limaye. Wildlife experts admit that due to rampant poaching, the actual number is hard to estimate.