The forest officials' investigation into the poaching of a leopard at Mankulam in Kerala's Idukki district has unearthed a chilling 'man vs wild' story. The local poachers waited for 15 days before trapping the leopard and cooking its meat. Five people, arrested for the rare crime, have been remanded.
After poaching and killing the leopard, the five-member gang skinned it and removed its nails. Howver, they were confused as to what to do with the flesh? They decided to cook the meat as one of them said that leopard meat is super delicious. They even decided to roast the meat.
The first accused Vinod who is a resident of Mankulam Munipara, took upon the task of cooking the meat. The meat was divided into five portions. During the course of investigation, the forest officials recovered 10 kg of leopard meat from Vinod’s house.
Of this half a kg was chopped and kept ready for curry. The forest department found that the other accused had also cooked and consumed the meat. The forest officials arrived at the house of C S Binu who is the third accused, when the latter was cooking the meat in his kitchen.
The forest department has decided to seek the gang in custody for questioning them in detail. A petition will be filed in the court to seek their custody.
The gang trapped the leopard believed to be 6-7 years old, using iron wire mesh.
Leopard trapped on the 15th day
The leopard used to often move around Vinod's land which is adjacent to the forest. The accused planned to trap and kill the animal, to sell its hide and make lakhs of rupees. However, their desire to make a fast buck landed them in jail.
Vinod had disclosed the plan to trap the leopard to his close friends. They saw videos on YouTube on how to trap leopards. The gang created an iron wire mesh trap to catch the leopard. After laying the trap they waited for days together.
It was only on the 15th day that the leopard got trapped, on January 20. It was totally exhausted. Later, they killed and skinned it in a day-long operation.
After removing the skin and nails of the 40kg leopard, what left was just 20 kg flesh. Vinod decided not to throw away the flesh but to cook and have it. Though some of the gang members wanted to fry the meat, finally they decided to prepare curry going by Vinod's claim that it tasted delicious.
They went back home, cooked the meat and consumed it. Some even shared the meat with their friends.
The forest officials carried out an inspection at Vinod's house as they got a tip-off. Subsequently, he, along with four others, were taken into custody. Mankulam range officer V B Udayasuryan said that Vinod was proficient in hunting wild animals and three years ago he had killed a porcupine and consumed its meat.
The other accused are Basil, V P Kuriakose, C S Binu, Saly Kunjappan and Vadakumchalil Vincent. The forest department has also got
information that the gang possessed a country-made gun which was used for hunting.
The forest officials say that the incident of killing leopard and consuming its meat is rarest of rare. There have been incidents of people hunting deer, wild boar, feral pig, wild porcupines, sambar deer and bison and consuming their meat .
The leopard is a wild animal which comes under Schedule 1. A person or persons who catch or kill leopards are liable for three to seven years of rigorous imprisonment. Even conspiracy to kill the animal would invite imprisonment. Last year, the forest department had caught four people with country-made guns. They were moving in the forest to hunt wild animals.
Story of tiger meat
The Mankulam incident reminds Kerala of similar adventorous stories in the state's history.
A similar incident took place 10 years before the formation of united Kerala. It happened 25 years before the Parliament passed stringent Wildlife Protection Act with amendments in 1972. At that time there was a set of people who used to hunt tigers and leopards for relishing their meat.
The story goes like this; Orungal Estate is located along Manimalayar near Erumeli. One day the daughter of one Kokoveli Kutty who was a settler in that area, saw a cow lying in front of their house. She went with a rope to tie the cow. But when she called out the cow, to her horror, she realised that it was a tiger. She ran for her life and informed her father about the tiger. Though Kokoveli Kutty possessed a country-made gun, he didn’t have the ability to kill the tiger single-handedly. So he informed his friend Valikkal Apren who too had a country-made gun. Soon Apren and a ew other locals came to his house.
The tiger which was relaxing in the plantation ran away on seeing the crowd. The people also followed the tiger. At times the people chased the tiger and on other occasions it was the other way round. This cat-and-mouse game went on for some time.
Later when the tiger reached the banks of a river, it could not move forward. Apren fired a gun shot and the tiger died on the spot.
On knowing about the incident, people from Koratty, Orungal and Erumeli thronged the spot. The people decided to celebrate the killing of the tiger which had strayed into human habitation.
The carcass of the tiger was mounted on a bullock cart and taken around the entire area for people to have a close look. The “last journey” of the tiger was taken via Orungal, Kuruvamuzhy, Koovapally to Kanjirapally. People gathered in huge numbers on either side of the roads to have a glimpse of the tiger. Many joined the procession on the way. And on the bullock cart, Apren stood beside the tiger like a hero holding his gun. The old timers say about 300 people accompanied the bullock cart on that day.
Twist in the tale
After returning from the procession, the locals were hesitant to bury the carcass of the tiger. So after removing the skin, the tiger flesh was divided and distributed among locals.
Hunter Apren died 43 years ago. The children who consumed meat then have now grown very old. Many have died. The tiger meat story still forms part of the folklore.
Pulimurugan of Munnar
Kumar, 34, of Munnar waited for one and a half years to take revenge on a leopard which killed his cow. Kumar who belongs to Kanan Devan Company 's Kanni Mala Estate Lower division in Munnar, was arrested by the forest department last year for killing a leopard.
A four-year-old leopard was found dead in a trap at Kannimala Estate Lower Division.
The investigations that were carried out in connection with the incident led to the arrest of Kumar. About one and half years ago Kumar's milch cow was attacked and killed by the leopard. The cow was the only source of income of Kumar and he had special affection for the cattle.
The cow which was grazing in the field was attacked and killed by the leopad in broad daylight. The neighbours say that Kumar had then vowed to take revenge. He laid the trap and waited for the leopard for one and half years.
Kumar disclosed to forest officials that on many days he used to go and examine the trap. The leopard was alive when it fell into the trap. But in a fit of anger Kumar stabbed the animal umpteen times and killed it. With the neighbours disclosing the story of Kumar's revenge to the forest officials, the mystery behind the leopard’s death was revealed.