KOCHI – Thursday, December 24, 2009
PNS – Thiruvananthapuram
Two young men were arrested with a leopard skin worth Rs 600,000 from Aryankavu near the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border by the Flying Squad and Intelligence officials of the Forest Department. The two men, arrested from their homes late Tuesday night, were under the scanner of the Forest Department for the past some days, officials said.
This was the second leopard skin seizure in Kerala this month. Cat skin worth Rs 700,000 had been seized from Palakkad on December 4. Officials said the frequent seizure of cat skin and ivory was indicative of the existence of an inter-state wild wealth smuggling racket.
Those arrested in Aryankavu were identified as Dominic of Murugampanchal, Edappalayam and Sanju of Pothanamala. The dried skin recovered them was of an eight-year-old leopard. Upon questioning the duo told the officials that they had bought the cat skin from one Manimunnar Swamy of Tamil Nadu at a cost of Rs 25,000 and that Rs 10,000 had already been paid.
They had tried to sell the skin for Rs 200,000 in Arynakavu town, the youths told the officials, who were now trying to find out the other men who could have participated in the smuggling. Officials said that the skin was taken from a fully grown leopard as it was six-and-a-half feet long.
Forest Department officials admitted that there had been a marked rise in the activities of the poaching and wild wealth smuggling gangs operating in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They also said the several seizures of cat skins and ivory indicated this.
On December 1, the police had seized a leopard skin worth Rs 700,000 from nine persons belonging to Palakkad district. The gang was dragged into the net by the police when they had come to sell the skin, taken from a leopard after poisoning it to death in the Agali jungles of Palakkad.
In January, 2008, the Forest officials had seized a tiger skin worth several lakhs of rupees from Munnar, Idukki district. The skin was from a sub-adult tiger and officials had said that the cat was killed in the Nilgiri forests of Tamil Nadu, establishing the existence of an inter-state skin trade racket.
In September, 2007, the Vigilance wing of Kerala Forest Department had seized a tiger skin from a village near Nedumbasseri, off Kochi, which came under the Malayattoor Forest Division. The cat was killed two months before the seizure of the skin.
Officials said that the Kerala Forest Department was preparing for a major offensive against poachers in the context of large-scale seizure of ivory and wild cat skins after a long lull. According to Forest Department officials in Palakkad, Malappuram and Idukki districts, a new pattern in smuggling contraband wild wealth was emerging from the seizures, including those of snake venom other than ivory and cat skin. They said jungle borders of Kerala with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka were the main centres of activity of poachers.
They also said Bangalore and Kochi had emerged as two of the most important spots on the smugglers’ map, while some Tamil Nadu towns were also being used as bases. They added that the recent seizures were made possible due to the improvement of coordination between the Forest Department and the State police.
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