It took a joint effort of two state Forest Departments and police to unravel the origin of a seized consignment of hippopotamus ivory in Karnataka's Shivamogga last week, before it was found that this had a transcontinental connection spanning over a half a century, an official said on Saturday.
Five people have been arrested in Karnataka and Goa in this connection with the seizure.
Hippopotamus ivory supplied from Goa
"Last Monday, we arrested three persons attempting to sell hippo ivory. With the leads they provided, we got some clues and found that the supplier is from Goa," Conservator of Forests, Shivamogga Circle, R. Ravishankar told IANS.
Mohammed Danish, Muzaffar Hassan and Zakir Khan were arrested, on a tipoff, from Chandragutti in Shivamogga, for attempting to sell up to 12 kg hippo ivory, which they themselves did not know was of a hippo, not elephant.
The Karnataka Forest Department officials were amazed by this development as hippos are not found in the wild in India and are only in zoos.
The unprecedented development presented a challenge to the officials who were eager to know the source through which the three men procured the African animal's ivory.
As the probe required inter-state cooperation, Ravishankar said senior officials from Karnataka Forest Department coordinated with their Goan counterparts.
"We approached our senior officials. At a higher level, they had discussions for full cooperation. A team went to Goa with whatever minimum clues they had," he said.
The hunt to find the hippo ivory's source was not easy, compelling the inter-state teams to search nearly 20 places. However, they managed to track down and arrest Anil Parsekar, who ferried the hippo teeth to the arrested trio in his car for a charge of Rs 7,000 in July.
Interrogation of Parsekar led to Vishal who had multiple aliases and ekes out a living as a small-time businessman in Goa.
On interrogation after his arrest, Vishal admitted that he stole the ivory from an 80-year-old woman in Goa, whom he used to help sometimes in taking her to hospital, and bringing her back home, buying her medicines and also cleaning her home.
"The old woman used to tip Vishal some Rs 500-1,000 whenever he used to help as both her sisters have passed away and her niece who looks after her does not live nearby," he said.
D'Souza, the old woman, whose first name Ravishankar could not remember, had asked Vishal to clean her storeroom recently.
"When Vishal was cleaning it, he stumbled upon the hippo ivory and silently stole it," he said.
Vishal later entered into a deal with the three Karnataka youths to pay them a commission of 15 per cent if they sell the ivory, which all of them were thinking to be of an elephant.
It was only after the arrest of the trio, confiscation and on closer examination by the forest officials did they realize that the ivory came from a hippo.
It was then found that D' Souza's father returned from Tanzania more than 50 years ago and brought it from the African country. All these years, the ivory lay idle in the D'Souza home.
Ravishankar said that the ivory came from Tanzania 60 years ago and other details about ir are unknown. "Further investigation is on... the material has been sent to a laboratory for testing to determine its age and other details," he added.
The forest officer said that it was possible that D'Souza's father could have brought the ivory when Goa was still a Portuguese colony and not a part of India yet, to questions if D' Souza's father had committed an offence.
According to Ravishankar, hippo teeth is also recognized as ivory and this development could also be the first time that hippo ivory was seized in the southern state.