Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN

NAGPUR: Even as the wildlife wing is grappling to stop poaching, three leopards and a fawn were electrocuted by poachers near Dhamnewada in Gondia forest range, around 12km from the New Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary. A stray dog also became a victim.

Tragically, the incident comes close on the heels of a review meeting between forest, irrigation and MSEDCL officials at Mumbai on November 30 on mitigation measures to overcome such incidents. The leopards, suspected to be a mother and its two four-month-old cubs, and a fawn died after coming in contact with a live electric wire trap laid for wild boars between November 27 and 29.

Earlier, in May, three leopards, a wild boar and a mongoose were charred in Surewani area, adjoining Mansinghdeo Wildlife Sanctuary, near Nagpur after they came in contact with an electric pole. Forest officials learnt about the incident on November 29 after a tip-off from an office-bearer of the village joint forest management committee (JFMC) that the accused were selling wild animal meat and that a leopard had been killed by them.

"When officials reached the poaching site, they traced one leopard cub. We failed to trace the culprits then but nabbed them on Saturday. The accused admitted to have killed two more leopards. The body parts of the animals were intact," said S V Ramarao, deputy conservator of forests (DyCF), Gondia. Those arrested include Ravi Dhurve (42) and Nehal Maraskolhe (45), both residents of Dhamnewada. Another accused Babulal Bodhade is absconding. Both Dhurve and Maraskolhe are habitual offenders and are facing a court case for poaching a sloth bear three years ago. Fearing action, the poachers tried to destroy evidence by burying the leopards near the site. All the carcasses were retrieved and have been sent for post-mortem.

The accused have been remanded to forest custody till December 5. A member of the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL), said the incident once again exposes lack of coordination between MSEDCL and forest department. "When the chital died due to electrocution, the MSEDCL staff should have informed the forest officials about tripping of the electric line. This could have probably avoided poaching of leopards later. A case against the power company officials should be taken up."

Chief conservator of forests (CCF) S H Patil visited the spot on Sunday and took stock of the situation. Ramarao said patrolling has been intensified. Assistant conservator of forests (ACF) Ashwin Thakkar is investigating the case.

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