Tuesday, March 6, 2007

3 Gir lions poached, bones and claws ripped by Haresh Pandya in Hindustan Times

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3 Gir lions poached, bones and claws ripped

Haresh Pandya

Rajkot, March 5, 2007

In what is regarded by nature lovers and wildlife activists as the most gruesome incident of the animal killing in the history of Gir forests in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat, two lionesses and one lion were brutally killed by some unidentified poachers. Their decomposed carcasses were recovered by forest officials and, worst still, all their bones and claws were ripped off.

"We came across extremely degenerated carcasses of two lionesses and one lion from the Babariya Range on March 3. Many scattered pieces of their flesh were recovered from the spot. But all their bones and claws were missing. Obviously, they were killed by some unidentified professional hunters," chief wildlife warden Pradeep Khanna told Hindustan Times on Monday.

"We have registered an offence against the unnamed killers under different sections of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972. We have initiated a thorough inquiry into the incident. We have launched a manhunt and alerted the police to keep a strict vigil at every exit point from Gujarat. We have also announced a cash prize of Rs 50,000 for anyone giving information about the poachers involved in this heinous crime," added Khanna.

"No professional gang of poachers has ever been found in Gir. Although there have been odd incidents of a lion or two being found dead in a suspicious manner, it is usually due to some accident or injury. I really do not think poachers are operating from Gir. But this particular incident, when three lions have been found killed together, makes us a bit suspicious now. Rest assured, we will spare none and take stringent actions against those involved in hunting the big cats," said Khanna.

In all, a lion is born with 18 claws. It means the poachers fled with all the 54 claws after killing two lions and one lioness.

A lion claw, among other things, is regarded as an article of jewellery by certain communities. There is a huge demand for the lion claws in the international market, too. A lion claw fetches anywhere between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000. The skin of lion, just like that of the tiger, is also considered invaluable by many people with special tastes. They are said to be ready to offer any price for such stuff.

This is also what makes poachers to execute their deadly designs. They generally lurk on the sanctuary's fringes, where the big cats venture out frequently to prey on the livestock belonging to settlers on the outskirts of Gir. Their standard method is to poison the kill and then just wait for the lion to die.

In September 2005, too, the Gir officials had recovered three carcasses, including two burnt ones. They had subsequently raided a temple near Hirava in Gir and caught three men in the possession of 31 claws and a large lion tooth. Following detailed reporting by Hindustan Times, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had ordered the Gujarat government to conduct an inquiry into the death of lions in Gir forests and submit a report in a week.

In the latest incident, however, the poachers simply butchered the lions, probably after poisoning them or shooting them, and removed their bones and claws. The carcasses were in such a degenerated condition that postmortem was just not possible.

"The Gir authorities should hang their heads in shame because the three lions were killed only 500 metre from the Babariya Range office, where a certain number of officers and forest guards are supposed to be doing duty round the clock, and hardly 200 metre from the state highway.

Obviously, such a thing cannot be possible without support of some forest officials. Chief conservator of forests Bharat Pathak, who has not been transferred since last six years for mysterious reasons, is solely responsible for this incident. He, along with some other officials and supervisors, ought to be suspended immediately," said Amit B Jethava, president, Gir Nature Youth Club, in his letter to the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and forest and environment minister Mangubhai Patel on March 5.

A copy of this letter, in which Jethava has mentioned in no uncertain terms many startling goings-on in Gir thanks to certain forest officials, is in possession with Hindustan Times.

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