Import from Sudan, forgery are possibilities, say experts

The seizure of over 1,000 “leopard claws” from Guruvayur has landed the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department in a fix as conflicting theories are being floated about the authenticity of the seized material and their sources.

While some senior forest officials dismissed it as a possible case of fake claws, the officials involved in the seizure said that there was primary information that the claws were imported from Sudan.

At the same time, some wildlife forensic experts believed that there existed the possibility of animals being killed over a period of time from across the country.

The Ernakulam-based Flying Squad of the Forest Department, which made the seizure, had also taken three persons into custody while they were attempting to sell the claws, which were to be used as ornaments.

According to a senior wildlife official, at least 50 leopards would have to be killed for obtaining 1,000 claws and it would not be a mean task to hunt them, extract the claws and market them.

Only organised and big time operators involved in wildlife crimes could carry out such activities.

Such a task was highly improbable in the country considering the risk involved in the poaching at different locations and disposal of the carcass without being detected.

Forensic analysis

The whole story defied the realm of reality and possibility and could be a case of people attempting to sell fake claws.

The seized materials would be analysed at forensic labs shortly, he said.

At the same time, a wildlife forensic expert who had analysed a large number of animal samples involved in wildlife offences over the past five years in the State said that the possibility of poaching could not be dismissed in this case.

Of the 400 samples analysed, 20 tuned out to be that of either tiger or leopard. Claws were missing in most of the cases of tigers and leopards.

Sudan provenance

The animals could have been poached from anywhere in the country and claws collected, he said.

Wildlife offenders were often found mixing original claws of big cats with the fake ones made out of cattle horns.

Molecular analysis of the samples should be carried out for ascertaining the genuineness of the seized materials, he said.

The forest officials, who made the seizure, said that a close relative of one of the arrested persons was located in Sudan.

The possibility of the claws being sourced through this person needs to be probed.

Customs officials had made a similar seizure in Chennai recently. Genuine leopard claws were found imported from Sudan in that case too, they said.

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