NAGPUR/BHOPAL: Dreaded tiger poacher Keru Chiyalal Rajgond was dramatically arrested from his residence in Biruhali, 15km from Katni, by a team of Madhya Pradesh forest officials and its state police at 5am on Wednesday.
Keru was 54th on the list of 80 tiger poachers wanted by the Maharashtra forest department. In the last six months, 24 poachers have been arrested.
"Keru is a big catch for us. He is being interrogated in connection with one tiger allegedly poached from Balaghat area. His role in tiger poaching surfaced during interrogation of other poachers who are in custody in Nagpur," said Narendra Kumar, chief wildlife warden of Madhya Pradesh.
"For the past seven days we were working on intelligence provided by a Nagpur-based NGO working in wildlife law enforcement about Keru's presence in Biruhali. Led by RFO SK Sinha, a team then zeroed in on Keru," said Rajesh Kumar, chief conservator of forests (CCF) for Jabalpur Circle.
There were doubts over Keru's identity. However, Rajesh Kumar said his features like lips, nose, eyes and ears matched with Keru's 2009 picture available with them. The only change was that Keru had put on lot of weight, grown a moustache and was sporting long hair.
"Keru is not revealing his real name and identifying himself as Baburao, Govind and Makhan," said Kumar. However, he told officials how tigers are killed by poachers.
Maharashtra divisional forest officer (DFO) PD Masram, who is in Seoni to take custody of Keru, did not respond to calls. However, some officials confirmed that the arrested poacher is indeed Keru.
On September 26, Keru had given a slip to Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) officials and Andhra Pradesh police in a joint operation near Tirupati. In the same operation, Keru's brother Ajit was arrested and is under magisterial custody in Nagpur.
Both, Keru and Ajit, used to operate in the Tadoba landscape. Ajit has already confessed to the killing of a tiger in Umred-Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary in May this year and another in November last in Khumari, adjoining Mansinghdeo sanctuary.
Keru is wanted in the killing of a tiger in Ghatang (Melghat) and another near Bamni in Chandrapur. Arrested tiger trader Sarju had procured two tiger skins from Ajit and Keru.
Keru is even wanted by CBI in the seizure of tiger skins and bones worth Rs50 lakh from Sampark Kranti Express at Nagpur station on November 7, 2009. He was absconding after being released on bail.
Keru had also bought a skin from Katangi (Balaghat) as per reports from poachers now in custody. Interestingly, MP has not registered a single case in tiger poaching despite confessions by poachers.
CBI probe yet to start
After the poaching racket was first busted by TOI on June 9, Maharashtra forest minister Patangrao Kadam said CBI would be asked to probe the matter. A letter handing over the probe to CBI was also issued on August 26. Although nine offences have been registered till now, on November 2, the state government issued a notification about handing over only two tiger poaching cases and a sloth bear case to CBI.
Keru is brother of Ajit who is in custody in Nagpur.
Had evaded capture in Tirupati when Ajit was caught.
Was wanted by CBI in tiger skin case in 2009.
Foresters had tip-off about him from Nagpur.
Was nabbed in his sleep.
Identified after features matched with an old photo.
Tried to hoodwink officials by throwing different names.