A network of tiger poachers spanning across four states has been unearthed with the arrest of eleven members of three gangs in the last fortnight. Skin of eight leopard and tigers and five kilogram of bones have been seized from them.
Their claim of killing eight to ten tigers in less than six months, which is about 40 percent of poaching incidents big cat deaths during the period, has caused panic.
"Their claim is alarming and we are verifying it," said a senior Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) official. About 18 tiger deaths, of which five were killed this January, have been reported in last one year.
Rise in tiger population from 1,411 to 1,706 in less than a year has pushed the big cats to the protected core areas, thereby making them vulnerable to poaching.
The WCCB officers arrested Dharambir and his four accomplices on Thursday from Bijnore, Uttar Pradesh, and seized skin of four leopards and one tiger.
The animals were apparently killed with the help of iron traps in Corbett Tiger Reserve and Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand.
They have claimed to have transported two consignments to an wildlife dealer in Delhi, identified as Lavi Singh. They were caught with animal parts in Haridwar.
WCCB officials believe that the consignment was meant for sale in the international market. Belinda Wright of NGO Wildlife Protection Society of India said the price of tiger parts has increased manifold in the international market. We have seen a sudden spurt in demand in the last few weeks which may be the cause of increase in poaching and seizures," she said.
The WCCB probe has confirmed Wright's apprehension after the arrest of a person and the seizure of tiger skin by customs officials in Siliguri, West Bengal. The probe has revealed that tigers were killed in Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh also.
The WCCB has been able to establish the links with Siliguri seizure with the network of poachers in these three states.
The officials are also trying to link the arrest of five persons in Kerala and the recovery of a leopard and tiger skin from them with international wildlife smugglers.