MELGHAT: The Melghat Wildlife Crime Cell (WCC) is making life difficult for criminals by following them in their hideouts. Until now, the cell has assisted in the arrest of over 175 criminals in 33 cases of animal poaching and trading. The WCC is Maharashtra’s only such cell.
In recent years, the WCC, also known as the cyber cell, has made significant progress in cracking down on poachers and traders, particularly those dealing in tiger, leopard, and porcupine body parts.
Crackdown Against Animal Poachers
“Over the last two months, Nagpur forest division officials have apprehended over 30 criminals in the Tadoba and Pench tiger reserve landscapes, and the role of the cyber cell proved critical in tracking their locations from call details. We could immediately apprehend at least six criminals in the last two tiger poaching cases,” said Dr Bharat Singh Hada, deputy conservator of forests.
In an interview with a leading publication, Melghat CCF & field director Jayoti Banerjee says, “The WCC made a modest start in 2013 by apprehending hardcore tiger poachers from MP. It now consists of a separate office outfitted with cyber equipment and technology, as well as a dedicated team comprised of a DFO and six forest guards. It has two workstations, drone squads, a vehicle, a cyber tool kit, laptops, and data analysis software, among other things.”
According to CCF Banerjee, the Melghat cyber cell deals with CDRs, subscriber detail records (SDRs), tower dump data, live tower location, internet protocol details record, interception, international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) surveillance, and other related issues.
“The cell keeps a database of wildlife criminals and follows up on court cases. We are in the process of establishing a graded information network in Melghat that will provide secret information of poachers and smugglers in all major wildlife crime cases in Maharashtra,” Banerjee said.
“Wildlife criminals have gone hi-tech, displaying images of tiger nails and skin on online trading platforms in a big way. Our team, led by forester Akash Sarda, deciphers such cases using IP addresses. The Maharashtra Intelligence Academy (MIA) in Pune has trained the team. This training process is ongoing,” Banerjee says.
According to Sarda, the cyber cell provides data on specific offences based on a formal request from the division head. Several cases have recently been solved, and criminals have been apprehended.
“Our team is also trained in fingerprint lifting and fingerprint digitization. It has received legal training and has been given a legal toolkit to use in the event of an offence,” he explained.
In addition to combating wildlife crime, the cyber cell was instrumental in detecting forest fires in 2019. The WCC is linked to a NASA satellite, which sends real-time messages and a map to respective RFOs, DyCFs, and field directors via WhatsApp and wireless.