Karnataka, Kerala Forest Departments bust interstate illegal ivory smuggling racket operating from Attappadi

Muzzleloaders, gunpowder, machetes, and wildlife trophies were seized following a search operation in Kerala's Palakkad district.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Dec 18, 2023 | 10:00 AMUpdatedDec 18, 2023 | 10:00 AM

Seizures made from accused Sibi Kaidukuli's house in Attapady

In a joint operation with their Kerala counterparts, the Karnataka Forest Department recently busted what it said was a gang of poachers operating from Elachivali in Attappadi in the Palakkad district of Kerala.

Following the covert operation, the Kerala Forest Department arrested five men and seized wildlife trophies — including leopard, sloth bear, and wild boar teeth, two elephant tusks, a bottle of animal fat, and a piece of sandalwood — from them.

Three of the arrested four have been identified as Sibi Kaidukuli (57), a resident of Elachivali and a farmer with a banana plantation on eight acres; Asghar Pasha (37), a painter from Melathur in Malappuram, and Yousthas Khan (40), a furniture businessman from Pandikadu in Malappuram. The other two are Anil and Sibi’s aide Rajesh.

The search party also seized four locally-made muzzleloaders, 10 machetes, three bags of gunpower weighing 5 kg, and other combustible substances from them.

The local police invoked the Arms Act and the Explosive Substances Act while booking them.

Thunderbolts, the Kerala police’s elite commando unit, were also alerted since Maoists have often surfaced in Attappadi.

Also read: Why Kerala Forest Department named captured elephant Dhoni

Ivory carvers of Mysuru

A Karnataka Forest CID probe led to the arrest of the four men. The CID was in pursuit of ivory artefacts being smuggled from Mysuru.

Forest Department officials said on Saturday, 16 December, that the ivory carvers — migrants from south and central Kerala —  were under surveillance.

Several such carvers had migrated to Karnataka between 2015 and 2017, they added.

“It is their traditional occupation. They came on our radar and we started arresting those involved in the illegal ivory carving business,” a senior forest official told South First.

“Migrants from Kerala in and around Mysuru were initially into wood-carving. Since huge money is involved in ivory carving, they established a network of agents in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, who supplied them with ivory,” said the officer.

“They mostly carved idols of gods, which were in high demand in North India. Families in North India offer ivory idols of Hindu gods as dowry so that they are passed on to the next generations,” he explained.

Also read: Retired Dasara elephant Arjuna’s life and gory end

Search and arrest

Pasha, who supplied ivory to artisans, had been under the Karnataka Forest CID’s surveillance. The officials had information that he was dealing with ivory artefacts worth lakhs of rupees. They also learnt that Asghar was in touch with Sibi in Kerala.

In the first week of December, Karnataka and Kerala forest departments conducted a joint sting operation and sent a decoy as a customer to Sibi’s house to buy an ivory artefact. Subsequently, four men were arrested, while Anil escaped.

However, a special investigation team of the Kerala Forest Department arrested him from his house and seized two country-made muzzleloaders from him.

Officials in the search party said Sibi’s house looked like a blacksmith or a gunsmith’s workshop. The trophies seized from Sibi’s house were sent for forensic examination.

Meanwhile, an NIA team might visit Attappadi following the seizure of firearms and ammunition.