Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN
NAGPUR: The local crime branch (LCB) has arrested two tiger poachers belonging to the notorious Baheliya community. The two, who were nabbed from Mansar, are part of a 30-member gang, which claims to have killed five tigers in the region over the last one month and sold tiger skins to a trader in North India.

The operation to catch the poachers was launched on May 30 based on a tip-off to Nagpur IG from New Delhi. Police caught the poachers on June 6 while they were finalizing a deal for a tiger skin.

On June 7, the duo were handed over to the Forest Department, which is further investigating the matter, after obtaining custody of the duo till June 12. The poachers have been taken to Melghat, where the gang reportedly killed the tigers. Crime branch PI R.M. Pali, who took action under the guidance of rural SP M.K. Sharma, who is also chief of the district tiger cell, said the dreaded poachers have been identified as Badlu (18) and Chika (20), both hailing from Baheliya stronghold Katni. They are a part of a tiger poaching gang that supplies tiger parts and skins to international syndicates.

"The poachers have told us that their gang killed five tigers in Vidarbha region over the last one month, and sold the skins and bones eight days ago. We intercepted the gang on the basis of call details records (CDRs) and Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) inputs. We nabbed them while they were striking a deal for a skin. No skins have been seized from them as yet," said Pali.

Forest officials said the poachers also confessed to killing tigers in Mandla and Tumsar. Only a thorough probe would reveal where the tigers were killed. Pali said even as the deal was being settled, the poachers smelled a trap. Chika tried to run away by jumping from the four-wheeler. He also jumped into a well to hide, but was pulled out after a dramatic chase by policemen.

According to sources, WPSI had first alerted forest officials in December 2012. It had also sounded another alert for police and forest officials in April, but the gang members gave the slip to both police and foresters. On May 30, yet another alarm was raised, and this time police took no chances.

Coincidentally, forest officials contacted one of the phone numbers that came up during investigations, and it turned out to be that of a poacher. Forest officials also undertook a sting operation but failed. Finally, police caught the poachers. WPSI had sounded an alert on May 26 in Melghat. Based on this, officials had arrested a poacher named Siri in Paratwada. Siri belongs to the Baheliya community too and is a member of a sister gang of tiger poachers. He is now in the custody of the Forest Department.

The arrest of poachers exposes exaggerated claims of tiger protection by forest officials and also reveals how tigers are still under a critical threat.

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