Almora: A smuggling racket dealing in animal skin has been busted by the police in Almora. An advocate has been arrested in connection with the crime, while his accomplice escaped. 

Following a raid by a joint team of police and special operations group (SOG), on Monday, the main accused, Diwan Singh was arrested and two leopard skin were recovered from him. However, another accused Harish Mehra, who is a resident of Pathania in Almora managed to escape, taking advantage of the darkness.   

A case under the Wildlife Conservation Act has been filed against the duo at Almora Kotwali. 

According to police official Arun Kumar Verma, Singh and Mehra were travelling from Nabal Kafrakhan in Almora's Dhaulchina area to Haldwani for selling the leopard skin. 

One of the skin recovered were measured at seven feet and ten inches in length and four feet and six inches in width from the right leg to the left foot. The other leopard skin was measured at six feet and five inches in length and three feet and eight inches in width. 

According to the SOG team, the accused used to poison the bodies of dead sheep and throw them in the forests. The leopards would die after consuming the dead sheep. 

A reward of Rs 2,500 was announced for the police team. The accused, however, said that the police team demanded money from him and arrested him after he refused.  

On Tuesday, the members of the lawyers' association staged protests alleging that the arrest of Diwan Singh was a conspiracy. The association also wrote to Uttarakhand chief minister TS Rawat to probe into allegations of disproportionate assets held by forest officials. 

In June this year, five leopard skin were confiscated in Champawat district and two smugglers were arrested. Last year, just before the Assembly elections, a team of forest officials seized about 15 leopard skin. According to a Hindustan Times report, in the past few years, a sudden spike in incidents of poaching for animal skin have come to light. In 2015, Uttarakhand topped the charts in leopard mortality in the country with 63 deaths. The rampant killing of leopards has caused them to become an endangered species. 

Last week in reply to a PIL filed by activist Anupam Tripathi, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to initiate Project Leopard to curb the killings of this species.  Tripathi told the court that in the past two years, India has lost 880 leopards. The apex court said that Project Leopard must be started on the lines of Project Tiger. However, the condition of tigers is also deteorating. In 2017, 115 tigers were reported to have died. Eighty-five deaths were reported in 2018, out of which, 25 were killed in poaching.