P Naveen, TNN
BHOPAL: At a time when Gujarat is at loggerheads with Madhya Pradesh (MP) over translocation of some of Gujarat's lions and worries about their vulnerability to poachers, comes a fresh evidence of poaching and trading of wildlife articles by those living around the protected areas.

Six poachers have been arrested with over 2.5 kg skeletal remains of a tiger, including a portion of its upper jaw and deer antlers from villages located within the buffer zone of Kanha National Park - home for nearly 60 tigers within its periphery.

Initially, three persons were arrested by the rangers of naxal-infested Balaghat district from Bilaisar and Alna village of the Park's Garhi range on May 9 while they looked for customers to buy tiger bones. Three more were arrested later.

The accused - Chaman Panka, 25, Rajesh, 22, Bihari, 24, Sukhdev, 21, Tantu Ahir, 23, and Santram 23 - were arrested on charges of poaching and illegal possession of wildlife articles under different sections of Wildlife Protection Act.

Forest department took action after hearing of the accused's attempts to sell the wildlife articles. Soon they were trapped by sending a decoy trader, said sources.

While some of the bones were confiscated immediately after the arrest, the rest were recovered from different places during a search operation.

"There is no evidence which indicates a poaching attempt in this case. They collected bones from a carcass and were trying to sell them." says J S Chouhan, the Park's director. He said investigations would continue and he ruled out any involvement of a poaching syndicate in this case.

A major combing operation was carried out in Garhi range to recover more skeletal remains of the big cat, but to no avail. The tiger's hide and claws remain untraceable. Officials however believe that the skin must have been destroyed by natural causes. Forest officials have sent samples of the bones to laboratories for forensic investigation and cause of its death.

The Gujarat government has been fighting a legal battle with MP against sharing its lion's on grounds that the central state had failed to preserve its own tiger population in the Panna reserve forest.

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