Last week, Gurgaon police nabbed Bheema, one of India’s most notorious tiger poachers, along with a tiger skin. Bheema, who is accused of killing 20 tigers, hails from the Bawariya tribal community. Arrested in Ballabgarh in Uttar Pradesh in 2009 for tiger poaching, he is one of many dreaded poachers from three modules who have either served their jail terms or are out on bail. They are on the prowl again and preying on the big cat.
Some 45 tigers have been killed by poachers in seven months, pointing to a resurgence in poaching activity, with these killers back on their beat. Tourists may have been barred from the core area of tiger reserves, but poachers, it appears, have a free run of the place.
In June, for instance, Dariya Singh, another Bawariya poacher, and his son Rambhagat were spotted in Corbett Park (Bijrani range)with traps and items that are used to kill tigers. But they managed to give forest officials the slip.
Shabbir Hassan Quereshi, who along with Sansar Chand, is accused of killing at least 250 tigers, is now out on bail. Sansar Chand is still in jail, but his wife Rani and son Akash Saini are out.
All these poachers are part of a ‘supply’ chain whose agents are based in Nepal and China. The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), along with help of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and several states’ enforcement agencies, have identified at least three modules working at the moment. The entire tiger skeleton and skin, according to official WCCB sources, fetches Rs 70 lakh.
Interestingly, three poachers of these modules– Bheema, Keru and Dalbeer – were in jails until recently, but are either out on bail or have served out their jail terms. (View graphic)
Poachers from the three tribal communities of Pardis, Bawariyas and Ghiharas are again actively killing and trading in parts of tigers and leopards. They operate freely in remote areas: Arunachal Pradesh Police have apprehended Pardi tribal poachers from the ‘no man’s land’ located between Anini district and Myanmar.
These poachers use iron traps to immobilise tigers and then kill them with wooden clubs. “The process of skinning starts immediately and after appropriate drying-up, they are made ready for being transported to another place,” a CBI report quoting the poachers says. “The bones and other derivatives are initially hidden or buried and subsequently taken out of disposal.’’
According to one module, Keru with his brother Rajkumar Durve, along with Pardi tribal poachers who belong to the Baheliya gangs of Madhya Pradesh, have become active in MP, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Between them, the three states account for 26 of the 45 tigers killed in the past seven months.
The CBI had arrested Keru in November from Ballarshah in Maharashtra for trading in tiger skins. He is now out on bail.
In Chandrapur Forest Division, Maharashtra, a tiger carcass was found in 10 pieces. The animal had been skinned; and its head, paws and many of its bones were missing. Keru had once been arrested in this area, which leads officials to conclude this was his work.
Likewise, Bheema, who was arrested by the Gurgaon police last week, belongs to a second module. The police are looking out for his accomplice Hazari and his local agents.
The most prominent poacher in the third module is Dalbeer, who hails from the Bawariya tribal community, and is active in Uttarakhand and central India. He works for a Nepali smuggler and his local agent, Sonam Lama, was once arrested, but he too was is out on bail. The other members of this module are free.
Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) chairman Ashok Kumar said, “The poaching has to be stopped at the borders; a tiger skin has no value in India as compared to China.’’
WCCB officials have identified three Nepalese citizens – Zabyang, Mote Limi and Sonam Limi – as being the major international players behind the poaching. (A fourth, Thinlay, is based in China.) Zabayang and Mote Limi are young millionaires. The WCCB has records of them coming to Delhi quite often and staying in five-star hotels.
The CBI is also hunting for Tashi Tshering alias Tchwang, another notorious trader in tiger parts. He had fled to Nepal, and was arrested there last year, but in the absence of an extradition treaty with Nepal, India could not secure him. He too is out on bail.
The WCCB has passed on information on these tiger part smugglers to Chinese and Nepalese officials through Interpol.
Outside these three modules, there are several other Bawriya and Pradi tribal community members who are into tiger poaching. Dariya alias Dariya Singh, a Bawariya poacher, is wanted in UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. He and his wife Sundera were caught with two leopard skins at Pinjore in 2000.
In 2005, he, his son Rambhagat and two other Bawariya women were caught with tiger skins and bone at Katerniaghat forest, Uttar Pradesh. Next year, the Bihar police in Champaran recovered tiger skins and carcasses at Governdhan Forest Range, Valmiki Tiger Reserve. He later absconded, but was finally caught and was convicted by Katni court in MP to three years in jail. That was in 2009, but now he is out and back in business. He was last spotted in Corbett Park.
Ram Swaroop, another dreaded poacher, was arrested in 2010 with two tiger skins and 50 kg of tiger bones and teeth. One of the skins was about seven feet in length, typically that of a tigress, and the other was about five-and-a-half feet. One of them had two bullet marks. He is active in Maharashtra and his foreign agent is Tashi Tshering.
Shabbir Hassan Quereshi, another undertrial in the Khaga seizure case of 2009, too is out on bail. The seizure in Khaga was perhaps the biggest: 132 tiger claws, four tiger skins, 18,000 leopard claws, 70 leopard skins and 220 black buck skins. Investigations into this case led to the seizure, three days later, of 150 kilos of tiger and leopard bones in a village, a short distance from Khaga, which was largely a big tanning racket and stockpile centre.
Shabbir’s lawyers argue that he is eligible for bail since the maximum sentence in his case is only six years, and he has already served five years. His son Sarfraj too is out on parole.
The tiger poaching business will go on so long as the authorities fail to keep repeat offenders in jail. The authorities have succeeded in keeping Sansar Chand in jail, but his wife Rani and Akash Sain are out. They were barred from meeting Sansar Chand in jail, because of apprehensions that Sansar Chand might be running the tiger skin business through them from the jail.
Rani also has several cases of poaching against her. She is apparently assisted by son Akash Saini and daughter Seema and absconding poachers Jassu Bawaria, Raja and Mahaveer.