Forensic science,DNA help cop catch lion poachers

Ask Gujarat Inspector General of Police Keshav Kumar about the most crucial lead that helped him solve the major wildlife crime case-poaching of 10 Asiatic lions in 2007-and fast comes the reply,Chameli.

Written by Vikram Rautela | Ahmedabad | Published:February 28, 2009 2:00 am

Ask Gujarat Inspector General of Police Keshav Kumar about the most crucial lead that helped him solve the major wildlife crime case-poaching of 10 Asiatic lions in 2007-and fast comes the reply,Chameli.

“Chameli is a little-known brand of matchsticks in Madhya Pradesh. It was this decaying matchbox lying in the wilds of Babaria range in Junagadh that gave me a strong clue about the involvement of notorious Baheliya tribe of MP in the lion poaching cases that year,” recollects Kumar,who made a sort of hat-trick on Thursday. All 16 poachers he had arrested in connection with the killing of two adult lions at Bhandariya in Bhavnagar district in April 2007 were convicted by a local court for five years’ imprisonment. In early 2007,in a span of two months,10 Gir lions were killed in three different incidents.

This is the third case that Kumar investigated as IGP CID (Crime) in 2007. With this conviction,all the 36 lion poachers from MP and one from Karnataka have been convicted under various sections of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and the Indian Penal Code,including that of a conspiracy.

Alarmed by increasing instances of lion poaching in the Gir during March and April 2007,the Gujarat government had decided to ask the police to assist the hapless Forest Department officials,who had no experience of carrying out a similar investigation. The CID (Crime) of Gujarat Police was roped in for the case investigation and IGP Kumar was made its chief.

It took Kumar more than five months to nail all the culprits on the grounds of strong evidence. “I remember spending nearly one-and-a-half month wandering in the forests with my laptop,which contains loads of information on wildlife crime. Senior officers from the Directorate of Forensic Sciences (DFS),Gandhinagar and Forest Department used to toil with me,” Kumar added.

Kumar had successfully investigated into the infamous Bijal Joshi gangrape and suicide case of December 31,2004 and the 2006 Jantral rape and murder case by using forensic crime detection techniques,including the latest DNA fingerprinting. “I wanted my case to be very strong against the accused,so that there remains no scope for any acquittals,” he added.

Kumar,who had no experience of wildlife crime probe,began with browsing the Internet on his laptop,with an intention to update himself about the latest in the wildlife crime scene and happened to get in touch with the Wildlife Protection Society of India and the Wildlife Trust of India. “Belinda Wrights and Ashok Kumar from two Delhi-based organisations helped me zero in on the Baheliya tribe as the suspected perpetrators,” Kumar said.

He added: “In fact it was Wrights,who told me about this tribe in MP,which is traditionally involved in lion poaching activity. The modus operandi and other characteristics of the Baheliya tribe that Wrights gave me and the Chameli brand of match box that I had spotted earlier in the jungles helped me focus on the tribe.”

It was yet another innovative technique that Kumar used to track these ‘unidentified’ tribe members,who were believed to be staying in make-shift shanties selling rare jungle medicines,including lion nails,continued on page 5bones and other ‘saleable’ skeletal remains of the Asiatic lion found only at the Gir.

“Wrights informed me about gypsy-type habits of the tribe members,their hazel eyes,their traditional activity of trading in rare jungle medicines,” said Kumar.

Wrights also told him that Baheliyas stay in tents near villages,that the women folk of the tribe have several young children clinging to them,and that their bodies emit a typical stench because of not having taken bath for several days.

“I sent fax messages to all the concerned enforcement agencies to look for people with this description. In a mass hunt that followed,we were able to find those who had poached the Gir lion (s) and were selling their remains. We arrested a total of 36 poachers in the mass hunt and all of them were under trial until Thursday,” said Kumar.

“To be honest,I took this investigation just like a murder or a rape case.

To my knowledge,this is the first-ever wildlife crime where DNA finger printing technique has been used,” Kumar said.

With the help of the DFS Asiatic Lion DNA bank in Gandhinagar,the CID could link the blood samples found in the jungle to that of an Asiatic lion.

“We also established through more DNA tests that the blood of the dead lion that was found on the crime scene,matched with that of the ones found in the accused persons’ nail clippings,blood-stained clothes,spears,knives and wooden sticks,” Kumar said.

He added: “To be specific,my chargesheets established with accurate evidence that which lion was killed by which poachers. It is like knowing about a victim of any crime under the IPC that we investigate.”

The recovery of carcasses of 10 Asiatic lions from |different places in Gujarat within two months — March and April,2007 — had jolted the state government.

The issue was about protecting the Gir. Some environmentalists were demanding to shift some of the Asiatic lions in Gujarat to sanctuaries in the forests of the neighbouring MP.

The Modi government was strongly against the “Gujarat ka Gir” being shifted out of what was his “motherland.”

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