Ikarra Vasu, the elusive poacher wanted for the wild elephant killings in Vazhachal, went by the name Varattupara Veerappan.
Wildlife enforcers said that his uncanny hunting skills had earned him the sobriquet. A native of Varuttupara near Boothathankeetu in Kothamangalam, Vasu lived on the fringes of lush tropical evergreen forests that teemed with game.
Very much like his namesake, he took to hunting at an early age, officials said. Soon, he graduated to big game. He befriended gunsmiths who had traditional expertise in making forge welded long barrelled guns. He spent hours in their smithies on the Kerala-Karnataka border fashioning ‘Damascus barrelled’ muzzle loaders designed to withstand potent gunpowder charges that could propel 12 mm steel slugs with lethal accuracy. Investigators said that Vasu and his gang had been operating in Munnar, Vazhachal and Parambikulam forests with impunity for the past several years.
However, he never came under the radar of wildlife enforcers. His operations came to light when a gang member, Kunjumon, defected and turned informant. Kunjumon stated that the elephant poachers routinely camped on a rock formation adjacent to a stream near Vilangumpara deep inside Vazhachal forests. Each hunting expedition lasted a minimum 10 days. According to Kunjumon, the gang hunted at least 20 wild elephants for their tusks since November last.
Investigators have detected seven kills so far. They said there could be more. Investigators said Vasu personally delivered the tusks to agents in the capital who hired artisans to turn it into high value artefacts. They said he was paid nearly Rs 1 lakh for every kg of Ivory.
Wildlife enforcers have launched a manhunt for Vasu. Several of his collaborators are already in custody. The raids to retrieve the tusks of the elephants is still on.