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Local temple priest among five arrested in deer poaching case

The accused were poaching at the Ranebennur shrine and selling it to the priest’s clients for hundreds of thousands of rupees a skin

The accused were poaching at the Ranebennur shrine and selling it to the priest’s clients for hundreds of thousands of rupees a skin

The Belagavi Division Mobile Forestry Team dismantled a black deer poaching racket and arrested a 32-year-old temple priest who was running it.

Officials said the defendants were poaching at the Ranebennur sanctuary by setting a trap, an iron net across the forest area at night before releasing trained hunting dogs to chase them in one direction and also setting explosives in a packet of edibles to attract blackbucks.

The defendants also confessed that they would draw electricity illegally and deliver it through the forest area to electrocute the blackbucks and kill them, officials added. The accused would then take out the skin, horns and meat to resell to the priest’s customers for hundreds of thousands of rupees per skin.

Based on a whistleblower, Seema Garg, Additional Chief Forest Conservator (Vigilance), ordered forest officials to investigate the matter. A team led by Suresh Teli, Assistant Forest Conservator, approached the gang under the pretense of being buyers and struck a deal for three pelts.

Officials nabbed Tyagaraj Lakshman Lamani, 24, and his associate Gurunath Basavaraj, 23, when they came to hand over three skins at the Ranebennur Bypass on Saturday.

Based on their information, the police arrested Beerappa Nagappa Medleri, 32, the priest of the Devaragudda temple, who also runs an ashram. Medleri operated through his gang of hunters which included Theerkappa Marappa Goder, 50, and Nagappa Dyamappa Harijan, 45.

Buyers attracted by religious beliefs

Investigations revealed that Beerappa would attract wealthy devotees visiting the Devaragudda temple by peddling the belief that possession of the buckskin would bring them fortune. He also promised to send them the skin through his contacts. After the deal, he would have his hunting party get the hide or horns as per the deal. The horns were sold to vehicle owners, who placed them as trophies in front of their vehicles.

Many dealers who sell pooja items also buy buckskin, cut to the size of chocolate wrappers, which are in high demand by a particular community for their ritual, the officials added. The chocolate wrapper-sized skin is a cheap and quick item and also avoids legal hassles, officials added.

Beerappa reportedly confessed to poaching five blackbucks this year, but officials only managed to obtain three pelts.

The gang has been operating for two years, but officials are investigating further to determine their criminal activities and network. Last year, Beerappa was convicted under the Wildlife Act for selling sand boa.