In a remote patch of Uttarakhand, poaching is so rampant that leopard skins and rare animal parts are sold from tea stalls.

Along with a team of wildlife activists, Sunday Times helps track and pin down a notorious poacher. Here’s how it happened…

At a tea stall on a hilly road in Uttarakhand, a little query like “What else do you have apart from tea?” gets a shocking answer. “Leopard skins,” says the stall owner, without batting an eyelid. The man has obviously mistaken us – this reporter and Sharma, an enforcement agent with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), an NGO in Delhi that works with the authorities to nab poachers and illegal traders – for people who buy skins and other body parts of wild animals.

In this area of wooded hills, slippery dirt tracks and villages hidden behind thick green cover, getting a lead on poachers is not easy. Here a cluster of villages – Hanol, Chadra, Tiuni, Parola – have become the epicenter of poaching, especially of leopards, musk deers and bears. Located on the border of Uttarakhand’s Govind Wildlife Sanctuary – a valley through which the Tons River flows, the villages are also close to the state’s boundary with Himachal Pradesh. Their location gives a perfect cover to the poachers who kill at will and vanish.

These criminals have their eyes everywhere. Laying a trap for them by trying to strike a ‘deal’ for animal skin can lead to one getting hunted himself. During two such ‘deals’ in 2011, Sharma had almost got lynched when the poachers realized that it was a trap. For an enforcement agent, entering a village alone is dangerous . “Almost every house here has at least one leopard skin. But going into the villages is risky because the villagers can spot the headlights of an approaching car from a distance and alert the poachers ,” says Sharma.

But the villagers too are victims of their conditions. Dependent on farming and animal husbandry, they have been trapped in poverty for as long as they can remember. In this area, where the poachers call the shots, the villagers or the actual hunters hardly make any money. The real killing is made by the middle-men and traders who deal with their rich buyers at home and abroad.

Chasing a lead, we meet Sharma’s informers who update us on two ‘deals’ they have struck. One involves two villagers who have killed a leopard and want to trade the skin; the other deal involves Shyam Prasad, a notorious poacher who has already been arrested twice.

Read the rest of this informative post:http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/flora–fauna/Hunting-the-hunter/articleshow/15252252.cms?intenttarget=no

 

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