Poaching and man-animal conflicts in India are taking the lives of hundreds of animals every year. As numbers of extinct, endangered and threatened species are on a steady rise, there is need for stronger law enforcement and technology-led mechanisms for proactive actions.
In various parts of the Himalayan meadows in Srinagar, warning signboards tell shepherds to remain aware of poachers and take care of their flock.
Similarly, on the way to Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand (north India) signboards reading ‘animals have first right to cross the road’ and ‘no hunting or honking inside the park’, welcomes us as we find ourselves surrounded by tiger motifs and souvenir shops promoting wildlife conservation.
However, none of the signs or warnings seems to seriously help curb the illegal poaching activities that have spread pan India.
Not only tigers or flock, but also leopards, elephants, snakes, crocodiles and countless others are consistently trapped or shot to meet the demands of the illegal wildlife trade.
According to a data by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), 1,593 leopards were poached across the country in the last 10 years. So much so, India lost 260 leopards during the first six months in this year alone, of which poachers killed around 90, primarily for trading their body parts.
The WPSI said that better policing could also be a reason for more cases being reported and the arrest of body parts in such large amount confirms strong law enforcement in various parts of the country.
However, instead of being able to find dead animal bodies, the country needs to focus on a more intelligence-led enforcement to proactively stop poachers.
An animal welfare organisation on July 10 in Mumbai, Maharashtra (west India) filed a complaint against alleged flamingo poachers in the wetlands of Malad (north Mumbai).
Sunish Kunju, wildlife warden for Mumbai City and founder of Plants Animals Welfare Society (PAWS-Mumbai) received information about five-six people entering the wetlands with guns and bags in the area where several flamingos were seen.
The informant sent images where faces of a few can be seen, amongst whom a man is carrying something in a bag, which could be a poached flamingo. Though there are no images of flamingos being hunted or carried out, the authorities are looking into the matter.
Earlier, reports of people entering the wetlands with guns in the same area have also been reported.
As if this was not enough, last week four poachers were held in Darrang district in Guwahati, Assam (northeast India), who were proceeding to kill rhinos at the Orang National Park. The police found .303 rifles, one 9mm carbine and silencer and four ammunition of .303 rifles, which were buried behind the cowshed at a house in Kachomari Sonari village.
During a similar incident in May this year, police in Nagaon city of Assam arrested four poachers, who led police to a jungle in Karbi Anglong where they hid arms and ammunition, including two AK-47 rifles.
In case of tigers, with many initiatives and significant technologies, India managed to reduce the number of poaching cases but the dead bodies of two tigers found in Rajasthan this year raised questions over the ongoing efforts to protect the wild cats.
In March, a tiger had gone missing and another four-year-old was found dead in a trap laid in a field in the Sariska Forest Reserve in Alwar. The farmer who laid the trap said he did so to protect the field from blue bulls, however, it could be a case of poaching, as those types of trap are never laid to keep blue bulls away.
According to K. Ullas Karanth, a wildlife conservationist based in Karnataka (south India), there are at least 300,000 square kilometers of the type of forest in which tigers can live, which are still under state ownership, protected as state-owned forest reserves. Around 10-15 pc of that land is protected as wildlife reserves. If all the 300,000 square kilometers is reasonably well protected and prey base is set up, we could have 10,000 to 15,000 tigers.
Animals at war
A lot of poaching incidents are related to man-animal conflict. People are attacking, poisoning and killing leopards due to loss of livestock, crop loss and destruction of property.
In Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh (north India), people are now deliberately entering forests to shoot animals for sport. In return the wildlife is turning aggressive towards humans.
Further, even in places where elephants are worshipped, people have killed them and written ‘Paddy Thief Bin Laden’ on their bodies. This was in Tezpur area of Sonitpur district in Assam.
Sniffing out the poachers
Zorba, a Belgian Malinois at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, takes a sniff and hunts for poachers.
He is a part of the ‘K9 squad’ supported by a local NGO Aaranyak. Deployed in Kaziranga in 2011, he was the first dog used for anti-poaching operations in the state. Till date, he has helped with the arrests of nearly 30 poachers during 18 operations.
Encouraged by Zorba’s success, the NGO now has two other dogs as part of its squad – a 4-year-old Bubbly and 19-month-old Zubi, both female Malinois; and other three pups in training.
Since 2012, the K9 squad has helped forest officials track down over 40 poaching suspects around Kaziranga and also helped recover arms and other vital evidences.
Though India has various protected zones, wildlife cells and technologies to cushion the animals, the journey still remains a tight rope walk that demands much more to be done.