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KARACHI, Oct 23: The four influential men who were on Sunday booked by the provincial wildlife department for poaching refused to part with the carcasses of the poached birds, it emerged on Tuesday.

They were caught poaching in the Khirthar National Part, as partly reported by Dawn on Monday.

Former Balochistan chief minister Zulfiqar Magsi and three other influential men were prevented from escaping and were arrested, yet managed to prevent police and wildlife officials from searching their vehicles or recovering the carcasses of the poached birds.

In addition to Mr Magsi, Jameel Bugti (son of former chief minister and governor Balochistan, the late Akbar Bugti), Danish Iqbal Panwhar (nephew of federal minister Liaquat Jatoi) and serving armyman Captain Abdul Latif Farooqui were arrested for poaching about 15 partridges and sand grouse in the Tianghar area of the Mahal Kohistan Wildlife Sanctuary in Jamshoro district’s Khirthar National Park. According to the field officer of the Khirthar National Park, the offence of poaching in a protected area is punishable with six months of imprisonment and heavy fines.

Upon being informed that he was under arrest, Mr Magsi reportedly told the raiding team “I am Zulfiqar Magsi” and repeated this three times, presumably in disbelief that this did not force the law enforcement officials to back off.

However, the poachers nevertheless wielded enough influence to prevent the police and wildlife officials from either searching their two off-road vehicles or take custody of the game, and drove off after the completion of legal formalities with the poached carcasses in their possession.

‘Officials were ignorant of

quarry’s identity’

Sources say that acting on information received, wildlife officials set out to intercept the then unidentified poachers while another wildlife team was dispatched to get police assistance from the nearby town of Thano Bula Khan and guard the route leading to the Super Highway from the park.

Upon spotting the officials, the poachers tried to escape but were intercepted by the wildlife team guarding the escape route. However, three to four other poachers who had also been part of the hunting party managed to escape.

The four men caught by the police and wildlife officials were taken to the Thano Bula Khan police station where a First Offence Report – the Sindh Wildlife Department’s equivalent of the police’s FIR – was registered against them (FOR No. 19/2007) under Sections 7(i)(ii), 10, 14, 17 and 33 of the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972 by Game Inspector Mohammed Sumar.

The field officer of the Khirthar National Park, Ghulam Sarwar Jamali, told Dawn that an inquiry was being conducted with reference to the poachers who had escaped. All the four men named in the FOR had been caught poaching in the protected area, he said, but upon being arrested, former chief minister of Balochistan became emotional and tried to influence the wildlife staff with his status. When that tactic failed, said Mr Jamali, in a bid to protect his accomplices Mr Magsi claimed that he alone had hunted the birds and later signed the FOR as a poacher / accused. According to Mr Jamali, the poachers were released on bail after the case was registered and left with their hunting trophies.

While the famous film star Salman Khan was sentenced by the Indian courts to seven years’ imprisonment for poaching in the next door Rajasthan, sources told Dawn that in Pakistan, such sentences were not even handed down to small-time poachers, let alone influential men such as those apprehended on Sunday. The wildlife department’s raid party had probably been unaware of the identity of the offenders and by the time they were recognised, it was too late and they had to go ahead with the arrests, commented sources.

When contacted by Dawn, the conservator of the Sindh Wildlife Department, Ghulam Rasool Channa, insisted that the poached birds had been seized. Upon being informed that Dawn had spoken to members of the raid party, Mr Channa said that he would talk to the raid party again.