Kerala

Kollam elephant trader held in Mumbai

One of the 15 elephants taken into custody by the Kerala Forest Department from a self-styled trader in Kollam. Photo: Special Arrangement  

After a search of four months, forest officials have arrested V. Shaji, hailing from Kollam district of Kerala, on charge of wildlife crimes, including elephant trading.

Shaji was arrested from Navi Mumbai recently with the help of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (western region) officials. Five cases were booked against him in Kollam under the Wildlife Protection Act and Captive Elephant Management Rules, Kerala. There is a police case too for forgery on a complaint from the Forest Department. Some of his close relatives too are accused in the cases.

15 elephants found

The cases were booked after a YouTube video, in which Shaji claimed to have traded in over 200 elephants, went viral in October 2020. The Forest Department found 15 captive elephants in his custody. Soon after, he went into hiding. M.V. Prasanth of Thiruvananthapuram, another alleged elephant trader and an accused in two cases, is still on the run.

The crackdown against elephant trade in the State had run into a controversy with the State Principal Secretary (Forest) stalling the investigation following a complaint from an association of elephant owners to the State Forest Minister. The Hindu had earlier reported the controversial order issued by the forest official. Later, the government lifted the ban and permitted the Chief Wildlife Warden to proceed with the probe.

“We tracked a telephone number used by Shaji to Mumbai. The officials of the bureau led by Deputy Director Yogesh Nilkanth Warkad, a Kerala-cadre IFS official, and Maharashtra police traced him to a house in Navi Mumbai,” said Surendrakumar, Chief Wildlife Warden, Kerala, who laid down his office on Sunday.

After his arrest, Shaji was presented before a magistrate court in Thane. Later, he was produced before the magistrate court in Punalur, which deals with wildlife offences. The court has remanded him in custody till March 10.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2021 9:07:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/elephant-trader-held-in-mumbai/article33956746.ece

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