Thiruvananthapuram: Forest officers tried to scuttle a probe into a gang of poachers who hunted down wild elephants for their tusks, a preliminary investigation by the Forest Department suggests. K.D. Kunjumon, who reported the crime, showed the forest officers the shed where the poachers stayed inside the forest, but the officers recorded it as a shed built by tribesmen.
Though Kunjumon, who said he was taken along by the poachers to cook food during the hunting expedition, handed over details about the gang including the phone numbers of seven of its members, the forest officers closed the case, saying that the police refused to help them trace the numbers.
Meanwhile, the Forest Department confirmed the hunt in the Vazhachal and Athirappilly forest areas. Carcasses of five wild elephants were found in a combing operation led by Vigilance Principal Chief Conservator of Forest.
The team found the bones and teeth of four elephants in the Thundathil forest division and the remains of another one in the Malayattur division. These samples, thought to be six months to one-and-a-half years old, have been sent for forensic examination. Officials suspect that as many as 28 elephants had been killed during this time for their tusks.
Kunjumon gave his statement before the Karimbani Forest Station Deputy Range Officer on June 21. He said seven elephants were killed. A forest officers’ party was sent to the forest the next day but they said they could not find the shed as Kunjumon described.
Kunjumon led another team to the shed at Vilangupara. He said the poachers stayed in the shed during their hunt for ivory.
The officers, however, said Kunjumon’s statements were not credible and the shed might have been made by tribals collecting forest produce or HNL company staff collecting bamboo.
The officers are suspected to have tried to portray Kunjumon as mentally imbalanced. They even went to the houses of the accused to read out the list of accused. This lack of discretion helped the accused go into hiding.
The report says the forest officers did not get any support from the Ernakulam Cyber Cell to trace the mobile numbers handed over by Kunjumon. They were told that the cell could only look into police cases.