Thiruvananthapuram, INDIA: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Tuesday started investigation into eight cases of illegal trading in tiger and leopard skin reported in the State last year.
The unlawful trade was detected by the Forest Department in July 2005. In October, 25 persons, including a Forest Department official, were arrested.
The arrests led to the recovery of five tiger and three leopard skins. It was revealed that the critically endangered animals were shot for their skins by poachers operating in the forested areas of Sultan Bathery, Devikulam, Periyar Tiger Reserve and Kalady.
The CBI team from Chennai on Tuesday visited Forest Department offices in Idukki district, checked case records and questioned several people. The State Government had handed over the cases to the CBI on the basis of a recommendation from the Forest Department.
According to a department official, some of the persons arrested in connection with recovery of the tiger skins were suspected to have links with those who smuggled wildlife trophies out of India.
He said there was a thriving black market for tiger and leopard skins in China and Nepal. A tiger skin could cost up to Rs.1 crore in the foreign market, he said.
The killing of leopards and tigers in Kerala forests came to light when the Forest Department stepped up vigilance against sandalwood smugglers having links with the poachers. An official said that the poachers often used decaying carcasses of goats and wild boars to bait the elusive and mostly nocturnal big cats.
The Forest Department passed on information to the CBI about several big-time poachers in the Randukayi area in Thrissur district, who were notorious for hunting tigers, leopards and at times even elephants.
The weapons used by poachers were mostly country-made muzzle-loading guns fashioned by blacksmiths, some of them retired army personnel now living in Vazhakulam in Idukki district.
The Vigilance wing of the Forest Department was updating its list of poachers and unlicensed gunsmiths in Kerala following a reported increase in poaching of small game, particularly wild boars, in certain forest ranges, an official said.