Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN

NAGPUR: The interrogation of nine poachers arrested in Pune for killing a tiger in Melghat has revealed that a woman member of the gang travelled 300 km from Melghat to Ramtek in Nagpur district with tiger skin and bones. This was at the time when foresters knew about poaching rackets in the region and were supposed to be vigilant.

The woman ducked foresters and police and managed to sell the skin and bones to to Sarju Bagdi, a trader from Haryana. Of the nine Baheliya poachers from Katni, seven are men and two women.

They have been identified as Nirafal, his wife Minar (who transported the material), son Surival, Lupistan, Arjun, Ujiyal, Nachbai and Wireless. Six of them have been booked for killing the tiger and three for killing a sloth bear in May in the same metal trap laid near Masondi in Ghatang.

Forest department sources said Minar transported the tiger skin and bones in a sack to Amdi Fata near Mansar in Ramtek tehsil. There is no direct transport to Amdi Fata from Melghat, yet she managed to transfer the material for Sarju to take away by the end of May. Arrested poachers Mamru and Chika have already confessed to killing the tiger in mid-May.

According to the duo, Sarju took away 11 tiger skins during two visits between March and June from Amdi Fata and Bhandarbodi, both near Ramtek.

The forest department claimed in a release that it has been independently working on the call detail records (CDRs) of poachers since March 4th , when the killing of the tiger in Dhakna (Melghat) was exposed.

However, if officials were active since March 4, how could the poachers manage to kill the Ghatang tiger in May and even transport its skin and bones so easily, ask activists. Forest officials said some documents seized from the arrested poachers from Pune showed Sarju's cell number. The team also seized other mobile phones and the spears used to kill the tiger.

Despite a major poaching racket being exposed, the probe team's entire focus is on Ghatang tiger. While officials reluctantly registered an offence for killing of tiger in Akot as revealed by the poachers, still no offence has been registered with regard to six tiger skins from Bhandarbodi and the tiger they claimed to have killed in Tumsar near Nagzira.

Meanwhile, custody of poachers Mamru, Chika, Barsul and Yarlen has been extended until August 28th . They were taken to the spot in Akot where they claimed to have killed a tiger. The two harbourers of these poachers, Parman and Soberam Sawalkar, were granted bail but were not released for want of ID's. "The recent arrests have helped give a strong message to tha poaching community that the state forest department is committed to save the tigers and no one can get away from the law anymore," said a release issued by Melghat officials.

However, while Officials 'probed', poachers made merry:

* According to forest department, it launched probe based on CDRs of poachers since March 4th after the killing of Dhakna tiger.

* Yet poachers were still very much active in Melghat, killing the tiger in Ghatang around May 15th -17th

* In spite of red alerts, tiger skin trader Sarju was in Nagpur from March 30th to June 2nd , 2013. He procured 11 tiger skins from poachers in this periodĀ 

* Woman poacher Minar transported the tiger skin and bones over 300km away from Melghat to Amdi Fata near Ramtek without any problemsĀ 

* By the end of May, the skin, along with four other skins from tigers killed in MP were delivered to Sarju

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