In the first major incident of poaching of its kind, four blackbucks were shot down by poachers on the fringes of the Velavadar National Park in Bhavnagar district in Saurashtra region on Friday. Police arrested one of the alleged poachers but three others managed to escape.
The incident came to light when Vartej police stopped a mini-truck near 10 Nala, some 15 kilometre north of Bhavnagar city on Bhavnagar-Ahmedabad state highway at around 6.30 am as part of random vehicle checking.
“As our team stopped the mini-truck, three persons who were travelling in it ran away. On inspecting the vehicle, we found that it was carrying carcasses of four blackbucks. Manji Rathod, the truck driver, a resident of Gandhol village in Palitana taluka of Bhavnagar district, was arrested. We also seized two country-made guns from the vehicle,” Ramesh Dave, police sub-inspector of Vartej police station, told The Indian Express.
Police also informed the forest department officers and handed over carcasses of the black buck. Forest officers said that two of the poached black bucks were female, one male and one sub-adult male.
During questioning, Rathod identified the three men who managed to run away as Kabuli Ahmed Dafer, Sumar Kalu alias Lara Dafer and Firoze Ayyub Dafer – all of them residents of Jivapar village in Palitana taluka.
“The four came from Palitana on Thursday night and hunted down four blackbucks in Devaliya-Paliyad village of Vallabhipur taluka in Bhavnagar district. The poaching took place in revenue area, some 30 km away from the National Park border. Their plan was to poach the animal at night and return to Palitana, around 50 km away, by morning. But they were caught by the police,” assistant conservator of forests (ACF) of Velavadar National Park, Gajendra Zala said.
Blackbuck is a Schedule-I animal and enjoys highest level of protection under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Its poaching can attract jail term from three years to seven years and fine up to Rs 25,000. Bollywood actor Salman Khan and others are embroiled in a legal battle for allegedly hunting black buck in Rajasthan.
According to forest officers, the estimated population of the ungulate in the Velavadar National Park and its surrounding area is 4,800.
Police and forest officers were on their way to Devaliya-Paliyad village with the truck driver to investigate the case further.
“This is the first major poaching incident near the National Park. We are looking for the three persons who are on the run,” Zala further said. This is also the second major incident of poaching of schedule-I animal in Gujarat in recent years. A poachers gang from Madhya Pradesh had targetted a few Asiatic lions in Junagadh in 2007.
Range Forest officer of the Velavadar National Park, DP Vaghela said the poaching was well planned. “We shall seek custody of Rathod after police complete their investigation and will also arrest the other accused,” said Vaghela.
On the other hand Vartej PSI said the trio who managed to run away had hired the vehicle of Rathod for Rs 2,000.