Ranchi, Feb. 28: Forest officials are on the trail of three accomplices who have been named by a villager held on Saturday with the skin of a leopard they had poached in the Palamau Tiger Reserve.
Amarka Singh, who was arrested while trying to strike a deal with smugglers at Satbarwa on the Jharkhand-Bihar border, has confessed that he was aided by his nephews Krishna and Chatur Singh and Rajeshwar Singh, also a relative.
“During interrogation, Amarka revealed that brothers Krishna and Chatur killed the leopard. Rajeshwar was in charge of identifying buyers while Amarka was the transporter,” said divisional forest officer (core) Premjit Anand.
The forest department is preparing a case against Amarka who has been sent to Latehar jail. “We will leave no stone unturned to prepare a strong case against him,” he said.
Amarka told officials they (the four) were involved in poaching animals, including deer and cheetal, in the reserve for years. “They recently killed a deer and were looking for buyers. However, Amarka told us he wasn’t aware of where the skin was. We are trying to trace it,” said the DFO.
The seized leopard skin was estimated to fetch more than Rs 5 lakh in the international market. The poachers trapped the animal before firing at it.
“When you trap an aggressive wild animal like the leopard, there are chances of severe injuries. The skin that we recovered had the portion of a leg missing. It bore holes, which suggested that bullets had pierced the leopard’s body,” Anand said.
The nails of the leopard were also missing. Forest officials suspect the nails were also sold off along with some other body parts.
“Unlike the skin, nails aren’t priced high and buyers are easy to get. Nails are used in making accessories such as lockets and bracelets. These find takers, as many believe that evil spirits are kept at bay if one wears lockets made of tiger and leopard body parts,” the DFO explained.
All four involved in the poaching are from Phulwari village in Palamau. Officials are keeping a close watch on the village to trace the absconding trio.
As per norms, the leopard skin along with photographic evidence and the statement of Amarka have been sent to court. Once the court puts its stamp, the forest department will reclaim the skin from judicial custody and arrange for its disposal.
“According to government of India rules, wildlife trophies can no longer be kept in museums. They have to be burnt or destroyed to prevent their misuse or smuggling,” Anand clarified.