Forest officials in India are investigating four men who gang-raped, killed, cooked and ate a monitor lizard in one of India’s most protected forest reserves. It was the only monitor lizard in the park.
The incident took place on March 29 at the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. The forest’s camera traps, meant for tracking tigers, caught the accused men trespassing the reserve’s Chandoli National Park. Forest officials arrested the men between April 1 and 5, and found photos and videos on their phones of them gang-raping a monitor lizard, and then killing and eating it.
“I have never seen a crime like this before,” division forest officer Vishal Mali told VICE World News. “The men are in their 20s and 30s, and they appear to have done it for fun. There was no religious or black magic agenda.”
The men were identified as Sandeep Pawar, Mangesh Kamtekar, Akshay Kamtekar and Ramesh Ghag, all locals. They are charged under India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. A local court granted them bail last week.
India’s monitor lizards are endangered, and are a protected species by law. Violators may be punished with a seven-year jail term. A report by wildlife advocacy groups recorded 82 cases of sexual abuse against animals in India between 2010 and 2020. This was out of a total of 500,000 cases of animal-related crimes that include torture and killings.
While the suspects are out on bail, Mali said the photos and videos of the incident have been sent to a forensic lab to build evidence for the case. Forest officials are also seeking legal advice on charging the accused under a law that criminalises unnatural sex between humans and animals. “Not only is this cruel, but there is a risk of zoonotic diseases from this kind of case. There are concerns of men carrying STDs and other infections from their act,” Mali said.
The Sahyadri Tiger Reserve, which is spread across over 1,166 square kilometres (116,600 hectares), is governed by the Indian government, and encompasses three national parks. The Chandoli National Park is spread across over 300 square kilometres (30,000 hectares) and has wildlife ranging from tigers and panthers, to reptiles such as monitor lizards and geckos. There is no official census of animals in the park, but Mali said it has 30 animals per square feet.
India’s monitor lizard population is steadily declining because of poaching. Eating monitor lizard meat is common across South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia and Africa. Reports of the reptiles being hunted for their meat are common in India even though it’s illegal. In 2016, an Indian forest official was arrested after serving monitor lizard meat at a party. Monitor lizards are also hunted to make traditional medicine.
Mali said that manually surveilling over 1,000 square kilometres of reserve area is challenging for forest guards, but there are plans of deploying a new special protection force. “We will get a team of 100 people who will guard the premises more efficiently,” he said.
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