Friday, April 13, 2007

After tigers, poachers eye lions


Meri News- Mohit Dubey


Lions are now the target of the poachers, who have already thinned the tiger population. The recent discovery of lion carcasses in Gir has put wildlife authorities and the police on a hot pursuit.


POACHERS, NOTORIOUS FOR preying on tigers, have become the prime suspect behind the lions found killed in the Gir forests. It may be recalled that on March 6, carcasses of Asiatic lions were discovered in the Gir reserve, which set  alarm bells ringing among forest officials and wildlife activists.


According to information shared by Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), which has been at the forefront of anti-poaching and animal protection activities in the country, the police have laid hands on conclusive evidence that corroborates the fears of an unholy nexus between poaching gangs across India.


Sources say that the Gujarat police have rounded up as many as 17 people, including 15 women, for possessing lion claws and poaching tools.


The accused are traditional tiger poachers from Itarsi and Katni, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. It is suspected that poachers of lions and tigers are not a different set of people. This has added to the worries of wildlife protectors who fear "that after having decimated the tiger population, the poachers are now after the already dwindling population of Asiatic lions".


"Gir lions are an easy target, since they are relatively more used to people and live in open scrub forest," said Belinda Wright, executive director, WPSI.


Their bones are also virtually indistinguishable from those of tigers. There is no market for big cat parts in India. Their poaching and trade is entirely driven by demand from abroad, mostly for use in traditional Chinese medicine.


So far six lion carcasses have been found in Gir on March 3 and 30 this year — all with their bones and claws missing. Evidence was found of steel traps leading to the fact that the lions were probably been speared to death.


Sources say there are fears that at least five other lions are missing from the Babaria forest range, where the two poaching incidents were reported.


Gir National Park, the last stronghold of the Asiatic lion, is believed to hold a population of around 360 lions.


The Gujarat police contacted WPSI after the case was handed over to the state CID crime branch. Anti-poaching experts are working closely with the Gujarat police for the past few weeks to crack the case.


While the case seems to be more or less solved — as far as identifying the culprits and bringing them to book was concerned — what is still a big problem is the fact that both the trap and bones of the slain lions are still missing.


According to a senior wildlife expert, the diligence with which the lion poaching case is being investigated by the CID, and in particular by inspector-general Keshav Kumar, who is heading the investigation, it looks wild cats may be safe for some more time!

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