Two people have been arrested for allegedly poaching three leopards in jungles outside the buffer area of Rajasthan’s Sariska Tiger Reserve (STR), forest officials said.
The incident came to light on January 16 when the district forest administration received a photograph of a leopard carcass, clicked by a villager around 3km from the Sariska buffer zone, said district forest officer AK Srivastava.
On receiving the information, search teams, including 40 personnel and drones, were sent to the forest block of Rundh Shahpura, but they failed to locate the carcass for two days, Srivastava added.
“On January 19, a dog squad was taken into the dense jungle, where the body of a leopard was found buried and hidden beneath stone and bushes as camouflage,” he said.
Officials said the postmortem prima facie hinted at poisoning as the cause of death since there were no injury marks on the body.
“We continued the search for more evidence in the forest area. On Thursday evening, two more carcasses of leopard cubs (both around one-year old) were found on the hilly side. They too were hidden behind the bushes,” Srivastava said.
Postmortem of the two cubs were conducted on Friday and the viscera samples have been sent to a lab in Bareilly and forensic science lab in Jaipur for testing, said Srivastava. “People have been rounded up for questioning from nearby villages. Further investigation is on.”
Leopard is an endangered animal under schedule one of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and its population in Rajasthan has increased over the years. According to national tiger estimation 2018, there were 625 leopards in Rajasthan, an increase of about 200 big cats over a period of three years.
Head of forest, Rajasthan, DN Pandey said the incident was a “serious issue”. “The chief conservator of forest, Jaipur, has been sent to investigate the matter. A through probe will be done,” he said.
Another senior forest official on condition of anonymity said the incident was alarming as Sariska has highest security for wildlife in the state after it lost all tigers in 2005 due to poaching. “Poaching despite high security and round-the-clock patrolling shows there are some chinks. We have taken the incident seriously,” the official added.
With the efforts of the state and Union governments, some tigers from Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan were relocated to Sariska between 2008 and 2013, officials said.
At present, Sariska has a healthy big cat population of 25 tigersspread over landscape of 881 sq km.
“The incident should be an alarm for Sariska,” said retired Indian Forest Service officer Sunanyan Sharma. “This case seems to be result of poisoning as the leopard would have attacked cattle. It doesn’t look like an incident of poaching as the poacher never leaves the hunt,” he said.
He, however, added that the wildlife protection is the responsibility of the forest department, which is possible only if they have adequate resources and staff.
Founder secretary, Sariska Tiger Foundation, Dinesh Kumar said, “It is an unfortunate incident and the real reason will be probed. We hope it is not what happened with tiger ST-1, who was poisoned to death in 2010.” He added that the area where the leopards are found is not part of STR but is close enough to send an alarming call.