To that end, officials have begun using a sniffer dog specially trained for wildlife crimes. Topsi, a dog stationed at the Sakkarbaug Zoo and trained with items from the local zoo, had significantly aided forest officials as he settled the killing of a lion in Gir Somnath district last month and also in the subsequent detection of destruction of evidence by burning the carcass.
The forest department took the help of forensic experts and also scoured the call detail records (CDR) to trace the accused who behaved normally after destroying all the evidence after the dastardly act.
Canine Topsi provided a key edge to help the trio nab
Forest officials arrested Karshan Bambhaniya, Karshan Barad, Gopal Vanja and Sunil Bambhaniya three days ago and sent the accused to judicial custody.
According to the offence, a lion was electrocuted after becoming entangled in live wires at a farm. To avoid legal action, the defendant not only burned the lion’s carcass on nearby farmland, but also cleared the place and put grass on it to avoid detection.
According to the details of the case, a whistleblower informed Jamvala range officials on November 15 that a lion carcass had been burnt by some villagers on the outskirts of Alidar village which falls in Kodinar taluka revenue area of the Gir Somnath district.
Forestry officials quickly scanned previous records of lion movement in that area and footprints, which they found ended up on a farm. Officials also found drag marks along with the footprints of two humans. But even then it was difficult to establish that someone had killed a lion and buried the carcass.
Meanwhile, the accused farmers of the particular farm walked around normally pretending that they didn’t have a clue of any lion movement there.
At this juncture, Topsi entered the investigation scene. The dog, specially trained to solve crimes in Panchkula forest, led the forest team a few kilometers from the spot on the farm where the lion was electrocuted and reached the spot where the carcass was burned. To the naked human eye, the detection of that place was difficult as it was cleared and covered with grass.
After digging, officials found lion fur, but could not find any ash as the spot was thoroughly cleaned. With lead supplied by Topsi, the forestry team searched for the ash and found it along with some bones in two places on another sugarcane farm.
The medullary forefinger of the burnt fur confirmed that it was a lion.
The scene of the crime where the lion was suspected to have been electrocuted was cordoned off and guards were stationed around the clock. The Forest Department also enlisted the help of the district administration and the PGVCL to find the names of the owners, but the land was invaded and the electricity connection was also illegal.
However, there was no permanent crop on the land at the time.
The Forest Department then checked CDRs for the past three days in that area and found several suspects moving. Based on this information, the department focused on people who had farmed the land in the past.
Gir (West) Forest Deputy Conservator Mohan Ram said: ‘It was a difficult case to solve. The lion died from electrocution but the accused worked very cleverly to dispose of the carcass. They dragged the huge body , they burned it to destroy all evidence, and then it just walked around as if nothing had happened. Interestingly, they didn’t even disappear so as not to raise any suspicions about them.”
Ram also added that it was a high-level criminal investigation that was rare in detecting wildlife crime. “This investigation set an example that no criminal will walk away unscathed even after destroying evidence. It was a team effort involving multiple agencies including our trackers and Junagadh Forensic Science Team Officers, the team canine, PGVCL and the Department of Revenue among others.”