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27 leopard skins seized in 45 days

13 September 2008

by Avijit Ghosh

NEW DELHI: From the border outposts of north Bengal to the small towns of Uttarakhand to the remote forest-rich district of Gondia in Maharashtra, 27 leopard skins have been seized in the past 45 days, showing up the untrammelled trade in protected species.

The latest seizure took place last Tuesday in Jaigaon, a small kasbah on the Indo-Bhutan border, that has been recently the setting for several cases of wildlife trafficking. "We had been tipped off about the skins. The carriers collected the consignment from a fruit-seller's shop in the market. They were about to slip away when we nabbed them," said district forest officer Ujjwal Ghosh over phone.

Two Bhutanese were arrested with three leopard skins. One skin was that of a female adult with apparent bullet injury marks. The remaining two skins were stripped off cubs, barely 7-10 days old. Wildlife experts say at least 120 leopards have been poached in 2008 and that the recent hauls (between July 27 to September 9) reveal the hand of organized gangs.

"Leopard poaching is being reported from all parts of India and cannot be treated as isolated incidents," said Tito Joseph of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. It's the handiwork of organized poachers who are networking with wildlife traders in India, Nepal and China. Most of these killings took place in Uttarakhand, Himachal, Maharashtra and Karnataka," he said.

The past six weeks have seen three incidents of leopard-skin seizures in Uttarakhand's Vikasnagar town, around 40km from Dehradun. On August 14, three sins were seized. "They were to be traded for Rs 50,000 each, though market price of leopard skins is usually double this figure," said Devender Rawat, sub-inspector, STF.

Joseph believes speedy trials are imperative to dismantle these illegal trading networks. "Let us not forget that most organized wildlife criminals are repeat offenders," he added.

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