By S. Ahmed Ali
Cops on Monday busted a gang of poachers, including two sons of guards of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and operating with impunity within the forest. They also recovered telltale evidence of wild animals, including leopards, being killed.
Police recovered one leopard skin from them and said they had killed at least three leopards in the last two months, as well as other endangered animals.
Four gang membersâ€” [sic\ Alok Khaire (27), Prashant Patel (25), Tushar Bagwe (29) and Abhishek Rane (26)â€”were arrested and booked under the Indian Wild Life Protection Act of 1972. Khaire and Patel are the sons of forest guards. Khaire works for a pharmaceutical company, Prashant is in his last year of graduation, Bagwe does odd jobs and Rane works for a cooperative bank. However, the main accused, Pankaj Patel, is absconding. He is married to Khaire's sister.
Police are searching for two more leopard skins as well as the skins of monitor lizards and deer. They are also likely to question the SGNP guards including the kin of the accused.
According to deputy commissioner of police Ambadas Potte, officials of crime branch unit 11 had worked on specific information received in the past two weeks that some kin of SGNP officials were involved in killing leopards and other wild animals and selling their body parts. Senior police inspector Raghunath Dalvi then sent a bogus customer to Pankaj Patel on the pretext of buying leopard skins. Patel agreed to sell a leopard skin for Rs 4 lakh and also claimed that he could get the skins of other animals, including tigers.
The transaction took place at a hotel outside the SGNP gate and the waiting police team immediately nabbed four of the gang. "We are now looking for main accused Pankaj Patel who always remains behind the scenes," said investigating officer Chimaji Adhav, adding the arrested will be questioned to find out how they killed the leopard and skinned it. Potte said the leopard skin has a big hole on the left side indicating that the accused may have used a 12 bore gun to kill the animal.