JAIPUR, India––Sansar Chand, 56, on March 18, 2014 died of cancer at the Sawai Man Singh Hospital in Jaipur.
Chand, who spent his life mostly in New Delhi, was scheduled to attend a hearing that day on charges pertaining to his role in poaching tigers out of Sariska National Park in 2004. The park is about 100 miles from Jaipur.
“He was lodged in the Alwar Central Jail and was brought to SMS Hospital last week,” an SMS doctor told news media. “Tumors were detected in his lungs, brain and spinal cord. The cancer was in the last stage. Before being shifted to SMS, he was undergoing treatment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. He died while undergoing treatment,” the doctor said.
Chand’s attorney, Ashok Sharma, said the Alwar district and sessions court had refused to release Chand on bail, but “had directed the court of additional chief judicial magistrate to hear the case on the daily basis to dispose of the case as soon as possible, since the accused was terminally ill.”
The first wildlife criminal to be charged under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, Chand had remained imprisoned since June 30, 2005 pending trial for the Sariska tiger killings, despite orders from judges of various courts in June 2012 and July 2013 that he should be granted bail.
Becoming involved in wildlife trafficking at age 13, Sansar Chand reportedly operated mostly from the Sadar Bazar market in New Delhi. Chand was first charged with poaching tigers and leopards in 1974, at age 16, when he was found in possession of 676 animal pelts altogether. Working with at least five close relatives, Chand was reportedly convicted 15 times of wildlife offenses before serving any significant prison sentence, eluding punishment even after he was caught with 28,486 contraband pelts in 1988.
Wanted for poaching in connection with 57 cases in nine states, Chand was sentenced to five years in prison in 2004, but was released on bail three months later and disappeared. He reputedly poached the last tigers at Sariska, one of the oldest and most renowned wildlife sanctuaries in India, as an act of vengeance.
Captured within a year, Chand sought unsuccessfully to regain his freedom as an informant. “During his interrogation,” The Hindu reported, Chand “provided several clues to the Central Bureau of Intelligence and also pointed at the existence of an organized crime syndicate engaged in a large-scale operation across various wildlife sanctuaries across the country.”
The intelligence from Chand may have been instrumental in the February 3, 2006 arrest by Rajasthan police of Nepal-based Tibetan wildlife trafficker Tshering Nema, also known as Neema Kampa. Nema was apprehended in north Delhi, in alleged possession of the skins of 34 leopards and four otters.
“The consignment was en route to Siliguri in West Bengal,” reported the Times of India News Network, “to be then dispatched to Tibet through Nepal.”
An alleged Chand associate, Nema is believed to have participated in the Sariska tiger poaching, and in poaching at 12 of India’s 25 other tiger reserves, including Ranthambore, the most famous.
Nema allegedly relayed poached pelts to Tibet via his father, Tamdin Vangyal of Nepal. Rajasthan Police spokesperson A.K. Jain told media that Vangyal was also in Delhi when Nema was nabbed, but eluded arrest.
Chand in 2008 won dismissal of charges pending since 1992 that he had been in illegal possession of 28 leopard skins and two tiger skins. In September 2009 the Supreme Court of India suspended the five-year prison sentence Chand had received in 2004. But Chand’s legal winning streak ended in August 2010, when he was sentenced to serve six years in prison for a 1995 conviction in Rajasthan state for possession of leopard skins. The Supreme Court of India upheld the sentence on October 20, 2010.