A few days ago, when passing through the lush green forests of BR Hills, we came across a herd of elephants. A forest official whom we met told us that wildlife in MM Hills- BR Hills area had increased following the death of Veerappan, the forest brigand.
The official claimed that Veerappan killedm ore than 2000 elephants and cut down thousands of sandalwood trees. Though Veerappan is dead and gone, his legend still continues to live on. Many facets of his life still continue to excite curiosity and one such is the number of elephants he killed and the huge amount of money he made out of the sale of elephants tusks and cutting down of sandalwood trees.
Veerappan first attained notority for poaching elephants for ivory and looting forests for sandalwood. Over years, his legend grew and people believed that he killed more than 200 elephants over a 25-year period till his death on October 4, 2004.
However, wildlife experts believe that actual figures relating to both crimes have been highly overestimated.
The media reports and villagers of scores of Chamarajnagar district where Veerappan often came calling for food and medicines peg the number of elephants that the bandit killed at 2000. This number is the figure of total number of elephants that have been killed in the entire south over several decades and not in Karnataka-Tamil Nadu forests.
More than 95 per cent of the elephants that Veerappan killed were males. Veerappan and his gang members were involved in the killing of a little more than 500 elephants over a 25 year period. Even here, the figure may be a little difficult to arrive at as villagers and even police laid the blame for almost all tusker deaths in Karnataka-Tamil Nadu and Kerala forests to Veerappan.
He mainly operated in the jungles of Erode, Dharmapuri, Satyamangalam, Chamarajanagar and Kollegal forests and also the forests on the fringes of the Nilgiris. Veerappan rarely if ever went into the jungles of the
Western Ghats to poach elephants.
However, there is no doubt that Verappan minted money through sale of ivory and sandalwood. We can arrive at the money Veerappan made if we take the average weight of the tusks of elephants that he killed.
Wildlife expert and renowned scientist Sukumar has said that the mean tusk weight during the late 1970s and early 1980s of a tusker was around 20 kilograms. This weight had dropped to around 10 kilogram an elephant by the late 1980s and this was due to intensive poaching in the area. In 1980, the price of raw ivory in the open market was around Rs.1,300 a kg and in 1989 when the international ban on ivory finally came into effect it stood at Rs.3,000.
The price of ivory per kilogram was Rs.5,000 in 1995 and by 1996 it was Rs.10,000. Today it hovers around Rs.14,000.
If we take the weight of the tusk of an average elephants to be 15 kgs, the amount of raw ivory that the Veerappan gang would have sawn off if it had poached 500 elephants would be 7,500 kg or a little more. If we take the average price of Rs.3,000 a kilogram, it would mean that Veerappan got Rs.2.25 crores.
Police have definite clues that Veerappan sold most of the ivory he poached to traders in Kerala, from where it found its way to carving centres.
Mind you, Veerappan had to pay off several people, including middlemen and others and thus he would not have pocked the entire money alone. Since he lived in the forests, his minimum needs would have been really minimum and he would have stashed away a major part of the money even as he purchased arms and ammunition, food and medicines, tents and camp equipments from the rest of the money.
What is generally accepted is that Veerappan killed elephants and stored the ivory and sandalwood in forests of Karnataka. Villagers of MM Hills mainatin that they had seen Veerappan sitting atop lorries loaded with ivory and sandalwood. They say he personally receoved large amounts of money, while receivers were paid his share of the booty once the illegal sandalwood and ivory reached the buyers.
So the question now is where is the money that Veerapppan managed to stash away. Is it in the many caves in the MM Hills-Satyamangala area or in his native of Gopinatham. Os is the money in the many underground bunkers he constructed so that he could stash away his loot.
Care to find out where and Veerappan hid his loot and how he stayed in the forests for decades, eluding the police and forest officials. Take a trip to MM Hills and other areas and engage the locals as guides. They would only be too happy to point out the many areas in the forests associated with the bandit, including some gory spots where he killed and maimed law enforcement officials.