Saturday, March 17, 2007

Easy come, easy go for poachers

Times of India Net Edition, By Himanshu Kaushik Date 16-3-2007


SASAN GIR: The first-of-its-kind incident of poaching in Babariya range of Gir sanctuary on March 3, in which three lion carcasses were found completely skinned, has come as a shock to conservationists, who have so far focussed only on rampant poaching of tigers across the country.


But two weeks into the investigation, this only habitat of the Asiatic lion in the wild, comes across as a forest completely exposed to a still unidentified gang of poachers, who are out to make money out of the big beast's claws and bones.


This time, the poachers probably entered the forest through the Una-Talala road and left the same way, unhindered by a monitoring system which has been lulled into complacency because the threat perception was never taken seriously.


What makes matters worse in Gir is that unlike other national parks and sanctuaries, where entry of vehicles and persons is strictly monitored, this last haven for the lion king has many busy thoroughfares criss-crossing its 1,421 sq km expanse, which has 359 lions as per the census of 2005.


"With almost free access to human beings into Gir and hundreds of people living in the protected area, it is extremely difficult to find out who is a poacher and who is not," a senior forest official said. There are several check-posts at the entry points, but forest guards who man these posts simply note down the vehicle numbers without actually checking them physically.


The CID had taken over investigations from the forest department and is probing several leads, including the involvement of locals. In 2005, two lions were killed and the suspected killers, who were arrested, were also locals.


The post- mortem report indicates that the two lioness and a cub, whose carcasses were found on March 3, may have been killed a couple of days earlier.


Conservator of forest, Bharat Pathak, says he has increased the number of guards from 200 to 240 after the incident, but he admits that more needs to be done to tighten security in view of the new emerging threat from poachers.


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