RAJKOT: So there is a Madhya Pradesh hand behind the killings of lions in Gir. The neighbouring state has been accused in some quarters of sending in poachers into Gujarat to make a case for the shifting of lions to Kuno-Palpur.
While that is debatable, the CID (crime) wing of Gujarat police has arrested a gang of 17, including 15 women, hailing from Katni in MP.
The suspects, it is believed, were involved in poaching tigers in Panna sanctuary in MP and shifted their focus to Gir after things got hot back home. These arrests prove the theory that gangs which had earlier targetted tigers are now hunting down the more vulnerable lions.
A total of six lions have fallen prey to poachers in Gir in the last one month and police is convinced they have got the real culprits.
The suspects were rounded up from Kharabhimpara in Una taluka. The gang had camouflaged their real intent by working in sugarcane fields in and around Una taluka and sell herbs and powders with supposed medicinal powers.
Officials said five suspects had managed to escape before the swoop and an alert had been sounded to check all outgoing vehicles in adjoining areas. The same gang, sources said, had tried its hand at poaching in Gir in 2003, when forest department officials had found traps laid at many places in the sanctuary.
Late on Friday afternoon, 40 persons were rounded up on suspicion and later 30 were questioned throughout the night. Of these 30, the police have formally arrested 17.
The police recovered some traps, two claws of lions, some claws of birds, a spear and an axe from the gang. During interrogation, the suspects have named the kingpin — Sarkashlal Singh, a native of Panna, who used to bring them to Saurashtra and master-mind the poaching.
Preliminary investigations had revealed that bones and other parts of slain lions were sold in Gujarat only. Police were trying to locate a buyer in Ahmedabad, who probably used to make a bigger profit by selling the lion remains elsewhere.
Gang members used survey lion-infested areas on the pretext of selling herbs. Later, they would use poison in baits to kill the lion and then rip it apart.