Following the death of flamingos last week, forest officials say they have stepped up efforts to protect the endangered birds by deploying patrol vehicles and even broadening their “source pool” (informers) to nab poachers on time. However, a 2014 case where three flamingos had been shot dead in Palghar and six alleged poachers arrested has not yet been concluded. The three-year-old case, officials said, is in its witness identification stage. In July 2014, around 25 km from Palghar at Kelwa beach, three flamingos were killed allegedly by locals who wanted to sell their meat for Rs 500 per kg. The birds were mature flamingos, each weighing about 8 kg.
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Two persons, Mahendra Gharat and Vidyadhar Kini, were caught by locals and handed over to officials. Gharat had allegedly used a .12 bore rifle to shoot the birds when they were flying close to the ground. “We filed the chargesheet within 90 days and seized an auto rickshaw and a motorcycle used by the accused to approach the flamingos. The matter is now sub-judice. A Palghar court has been hearing it since 2015, but we have only reached the witness identification stage. Our next hearing is on April 18 this year,” said a senior forest official privy to the investigation. The accused were booked under Sections 2 (hunting), 9 (intent to hunt), 39 (stealing government property) and 51 (penalty for the above crimes levied by the forest department, local police) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Officials said that the accused only spent a night in jail and were released on bail a day after.
“For evidence, we have the rifle used to shoot the birds, the autopsy of the birds and and ballistic reports that match and clearly indicate that the shot fired to kill them were from Gharat’s weapon. We even have a few locals who saw the accused and nabbed them until the police came,” an official said. According to the chargesheet, while the birds were shot using Gharat’s .12 bore licenced rifle, the accused used Kini’s autorickshaw for the hunt. They could have earned upto Rs 3,000 for each of the birds they killed. Last week, in three separate incidents, three flamingos succumbed to injuries, two died due to pellet wounds and one because “someone tried grabbing” it, forest officials said. No arrests have been made in the cases.