Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lion injured in '04 could be first poaching target


Ahmedabad Newsline- Sibte Husain Bukhari


‘There’s link between recent poachings and an earlier incident in which a lion was injured’


Junagadh, April 19: This lion, with a missing paw and living at Sakkar Baug Zoo in Junagadh since 2004, has suddenly caught the attention of officials investigating last month’s poaching incidents.


The officials said ‘Sarjit’, as the zoo authorities have named the lion, could be the first target of poachers who tried to trap it three years ago. That was also when tribals from Madhya Pradesh were first seen in the vicinity of the Gir Sanctuary, they added.


On April 18, 2004, forest officials had found the lion in the Dedakadi Forest Range near Sasan Gir, the headquarters of Gir Sanctuary. Its right paw and forelimb were badly injured.


“The right paw was nearly ripped off the leg. But there were no other visible injuries on the animal to suggest it was involved in a fight with another lion or animal. Our first priority was to save the animal, so we took it to Sakkar Baug Zoo for treatment,” a senior forest official said.


Though vets managed to save the lion, its paw had to be amputated. Superintendent of Sakkar Baug Zoo, R D Katara said, “The lion’s right paw had been amputated. That kind of serious injury must have been caused by an iron trap.”


However, they had no inkling about the culprits till early 2004. It was on May 17, 2004 that a gang of tribals from Madhya Pradesh were arrested by forest officials with leopard skins and iron traps in their possession. Though a case was registered against them and they were sent to judicial custody by a local court, the tribals got bail and disappeared without trace thereafter.


Officials now believe that this gang of tribals were the ones who first struck in April, 2004 in Dedakadi Forest Range and Sarjit was their first target.


“The trap was probably laid by the gang of tribal poachers whose movement was noticed in villages and towns near the sanctuary. They were later arrested in April 2004,” the officer said.


“The tribal gang had claimed they came to Junagadh looking for work as agriculture labourers. But alarm bells should have rung then when leopard skin and traps were recovered from them,” a forest officer said.


“There are many similarities between the 2004 incident and the three recent poaching cases in which eight lions have been killed.


“Those arrested then and in April 2007 belong to the same tribal community of MP. The lions were poached using iron traps, again similar to those recovered from the tribals arrested in 2004,” the officer said.

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