Huge tusk carving being measured.

Sushanta Roy is a journalist in the north eastern states of Assam and Meghalaya, India, who photographs and writes about the people, animals and flora, and the things that affect them.

Diphu October 12: A covert operation conducted by a group of officers from Kerala Forest Department, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and Delhi Police led to the seizure of 487 kg of ivory in Delhi last night. The technical and field support to the Kerala State Forest Department from the start of the investigation was provided by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and its partner International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

This haul was the result of a carefully planned ‘Operation Shikar’ in which one Mr Umesh Agrawal was arrested on October 2. He is suspected to be the top dog of the illegal trade in ivory as the main buyer of ivory and maker of various artifacts. This came to light from the detailed analysis of call records of middlemen and poachers from Kerala, where wild elephants were poached. The suspect was taken to Kerala where several cases are registered against him.

‘Operation Shikar’ was initiated soon after the discovery of organized elephant poaching in Kerala in the month of June after which two persons, Ajir Brite and Preston were arrested. The investigation team used human and digital intelligence to track the movement of suspects and build the linkages and actionable intelligence was handed over to the strike teams who conducted secret operation through which the two suspects Brite and Preston were arrested. They used to supply ivory to Agrawal.

full-tusk-carving
Two Full tusk carvings.

The trader, Aggrawal is a well to do entrepreneur dealing in art and collectibles was operating his business from a three storey house in a posh locality of Delhi. A fully equipped carving unit was operational in the basement of his house where the authorities suspect the artisans turned ivory into high valued ivory articles for export.

The suspect confessed his involvement in the illegal trade of ivory from the 90s. He used his company ‘Art of India’ which dealt in various artefacts from India to other countries and mixed ivory and ivory articles along with sandstone and resin statues to avoid detection. He also openly manufactured and displayed articles which looked and felt like ivory in various art exhibitions to attract customers for genuine ivory products.

During the course of investigations, he confessed about hiding ivory and ivory articles in a rented room in East Delhi. He also gave a sketch of the location, marking the building in which he kept the ivory and ivory article which was kept in side his house. He moved the illegal goods from his house to a safe house to avoid detection, after learning about the arrest of Ajir Brite and Preston who supplied ivory to him.

carvings
Intricate tusk carvings.

He used one of his employees to organize a room to store the goods. The owners of the house were informed that the goods in the wooden boxes were just plastic items. Umesh used his own SUV and rented vehicles to move the ivory from his house to the secret place, locked the room and kept the key with him. He paid the rent by cash and occasionally checked the goods.

Once the presence of ivory in a secret location was confirmed, a team was formed and moved to Delhi on the night of October 10. Next morning, with the help of Delhi police, a trap was laid and the rented room was raided. (information received from WTI source).

The entire examination of goods lasted for 12 hours as each item was examined and packed. The operation ended at 12:15 am and the procedure of transportation of the seized items to Kerala was started. Some documents and pen drives also were recovered from his house which are being examined

The confession statements, direct and indirect evidences collected from the seizure location in the past few months already provided strong evidences and leads about other people involved in the ivory trade. Umesh also confessed that many Indians were his clients and their details are also being verified. During the investigation it was also discovered that Umesh used to palm off fake ivory substitutes made of resin to unsuspecting clients in the name of ivory.

The IFAW-WTI team member who assisted the enforcement agencies during the entire operation says, “Delhi police provided exceptional support to the entire operation with both the SHOs of Shakarpur and Jaffarabad ensured that the team got the much needed protection and operational support. We also will be ensuring legal support to the case through our expert lawyers to ensure pro-conservation judgments in this case.” The ivory was transported to Kerala early morning today by flight and produced in front of the CJM.

huge-tusk-carving-being-measured
Measuring a huge tusk carving.