20 jailed for three years for killing Gir lions (Lead)

October 23rd, 2008 - 10:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Junagarh (Gujarat), Oct 23 (IANS) A court in this Gujarat city Thursday sentenced 20 people, including nine women, to three years in jail for killing six lions in the nearby Gir National Park - the biggest case of poaching in recent history in the sole home of Asiatic lions.The Seventh Court of Judge P.D. Makwana found the 20 accused guilty of killing six lions - three each on March 3 and March 30 last year - and sentenced them to three-year jail terms. The court also imposed a fine of Rs.10,000 on each of them.

Twenty-one people, originally from Panna in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, were arrested from Una village, 180 km from here, on April 6, 2007 after the carcasses of the six lions were found with various parts removed. One of the accused, a woman, died later.

Authorities said the case was unprecedented in India’s judicial history, since this was the first case to come to light involving lions in wildlife trade.

Keshav Kumar, inspector general police (IGP) who led the investigation, said: “This is the first known case in India in which lions were hunted for trade.”

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which was entrusted the probe, found the gang used to trap lions and kill them to retrieve body parts that could be sold in illegal markets for high profits.

According to public prosecutor J.M. Sakanpara, two lion claws were recovered from the main accused, Kuntar Singh and Nanaka Singh, during their arrest.

The remaining accused were arrested based on the information provided by Kuntar and Nanaka. All of them remained in judicial custody throughout the trial, as the Gujarat High Court denied bail to them.

“The trial was relatively fast for a wildlife case, which was completed within 18 months of the crime,” advocate Saurabh Sharma of the NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), who assisted the prosecution, said in a statement in New Delhi.

The Gir forest in Saurashtra region of Gujarat is the only place in India where the ‘critically endangered’ Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) are found. A survey conducted in 2005 estimated the presence of 359 lions there.

Lions are poached for bones that are used in traditional Chinese medicines, and its claws are used as amulets, WTI vice-chairman Ashok Kumar said.

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