Wildlife protection | Nowhere to roam

A lush expanse of rainforests, swamps and rolling fields of elephant grass nestled in the heart of Assam, Kaziranga is a Unesco World Heritage Site, with two-thirds of the world’s rhino population in an endangered horn, and among the highest density of tigers in the world. Herds of elephants, water buffaloes and marsh deer meander within the park’s boundaries, a source of inspiration for poets, writers and filmmakers.

Today, this natural wealth is under attack: in the last 10 months alone, the park has lost 39 rhinos to poachers and flooding, according to PTI reports – an alarming number, given that fewer remain of 3,000 in the world. Kaziranga is also not the only wildlife sanctuary in India facing growing problems. According to statistics from the Wildlife Protection Society of India, 2012 was one of the deadliest years for tigers in recent history, with 28 tigers killed by poachers so far, more than double the number killed. in 2011. Endangered owl varieties (sacrificed in religious ceremonies) and spotted leopards are also rapidly disappearing from other regions of the country, under the noses of the authorities.

It is precisely these kinds of tragedies that Samir Sinha, former head of the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, WWF India, and currently with the Forestry Department of Uttarakhand, hopes that a further amendment to India’s Law on Wildlife wildlife (protection), which dramatically increases penalties for poaching, could help prevent it. “What you have to appreciate about wildlife crime is that you go to great lengths to build a place and make it secure. But if the criminals are lucky, they can clean it up and undo years of hard work in no time, ”says Sinha. “I like to say that law enforcement has to work hard and be lucky every day. Poachers need a day to be lucky, and the damage is done. “

First passed in 1972, the Wild Life (Protection) Act is the primary law protecting the country’s unique flora and fauna. The law established lists of protected animals and plants, banned the hunting and harvesting of species, and established a notification process for new wildlife conservation areas.

A growing problem

Today India has a total of 668 protected areas, including 102 national parks, 515 wildlife reserves, 47 conservation reserves and four community reserves, covering almost 5% of the country. However, the problems of prosecuting poachers, humans encroaching on animal habitat, and loss of animal life as a result of traffic accidents, especially vehicle and train collisions, remain critical challenges. .

There have been several attempts to amend the Act to better protect wildlife. The main concern is the trade in illegal wildlife products, a multibillion-dollar industry fueled by the growing demand for rhino horns and tiger parts in countries like China and Vietnam.

In October, cabinet approved several amendments to the Wild Life (Protection) Act, which are expected to be discussed in Parliament during the next winter session. These would incorporate certain provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) and increase penalties for offenses such as poaching. Cites is an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Another amendment attempts to stem the tide of conflict between animals and people, by making consultation with village gram or panchayats mandatory before new wildlife areas are notified – an amendment that not all wildlife experts do. are not satisfied.

Supporters of this amendment argue that this is the only way to fairly treat indigenous forest dwellers, who have at times been evicted from forests, from their traditional homes, without prior consultation once the land has been designated a national forest area, causing an uproar among human rights activists. However, critics fear that consulting residents will make the already long process of notifying new wildlife areas even more difficult.

Praveen Bhargav, management administrator of Bangalore-based wildlife conservation NGO, Wildlife First, says: between 3% and 4% of India. He adds, “If you haven’t solved these economic problems on 95% of India, it is quite absurd to think that it would reduce the problem by weakening the wildlife laws.”

As for the amendment increasing penalties for poaching, it may be good in theory, but some conservationists are not very optimistic about its impact on animal trafficking. “You can increase the sentences ad infinitum, but it doesn’t make a difference unless the execution and conviction rates increase,” Bhargav explains. sentence, the quality of evidence required by the courts is also increasing. So in my opinion we need much better conviction rates. “

Protect the corridors

Even more worrying than poaching for Prerna Bindra, Delhi-based senior conservation consultant with Wildlife Conservation Society-India, Bangalore, is the issue of wildlife corridors for large animals such as elephants and tigers.

In 2010, seven elephants were struck by a high-speed freight train in West Bengal after two baby elephants got stranded on the tracks. Hearing the approaching train, five adults lined up in front of them on the rails, using their bodies to protect the babies. All seven were killed. Similar deaths have been reported in Orissa, Assam and Karnataka.

Such incidents could be minimized with a new amendment to the wildlife law to protect the corridors. Bindra, an unofficial member of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), believes it is vital to protect critical wildlife corridors by making them mandatory for large infrastructure projects that cross well-known wildlife passages. , such as the construction of a new highway, a new train line, or a new power station – to go through the scrutiny of the NBWL, a supreme statutory body headed by the Prime Minister who advises the central government on policy, conservation and management of wildlife.

Currently, there is no official data on the number of wildlife lives lost due to road or train accidents, although there have been numerous incidents.

When the NBWL met in September, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan assured that the law would be amended to legally protect elephant reserves and wildlife corridors. . However, there has been little follow-up since. The changes would identify and legalize protected wildlife corridors and require that all major development projects surrounding them come under the scrutiny of council.

Although there are no official statistics on the animal lives lost to traffic and railways crossing these corridors, it remains a serious problem. “It is an established fact that several large species like tigers, elephants and bears have a wide distribution and migrate from one forest to another”, explains an environmentalist who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. “But when you cut through their hallway, their escape route is now blocked by, say, a freeway, so they risk being run over. Don’t build the road here. Take another road. ‘”

Getting to the heart of India’s conservation challenge is a difficult dilemma: how a country of 1.2 billion people, a third of the world’s poor, and about 7% of the world’s wildlife (including over 100 varieties of endangered species) manage quickly without irreparably damaging the fragile environment and ecosystem? “Unfortunately, this is a question that has no easy answer,” says Bhargav.

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WILDLIFE (PROTECTION) ACT, 1972

Why it matters

The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 is the primary law protecting animal and plant life in the country. Currently, India is home to 7% of the world’s wildlife, including 461 endangered plants and animals, of which 133 are listed as “critically endangered” in the 2012 Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of nature (IUCN). These include the Bengal tiger. , Malabar civet, Indian black vulture, forest owl and green-eyed frog.

What will change

There are two main amendments which were approved by cabinet in early October. These would amend the current law to incorporate the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) and strengthen penalties for offenses such as poaching. They would also make it mandatory to consult the “gram panchayats” before new wildlife areas can be notified. They will be presented to Parliament during the next winter session.

What we need to discuss further

youNeither set of amendments addresses the issue of protecting critical wildlife corridors, where human-animal conflicts (such as road collisions) have resulted in hundreds of animal deaths over the years.

youImplementation is also a problem: many officers lack adequate legal training or awareness of the seriousness of wildlife crime. The conviction rates for poachers and trafficking are quite low. Critics fear that an amendment that would make it mandatory to consult “gram panchayats” before notification of new wildlife areas could dilute the current law.

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HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE

WILDLIFE TRUST OF INDIA

A non-profit organization that works in partnership with local communities and governments to conserve nature, especially endangered species and threatened habitats. Also works in animal rescue.

What he needs

Donations and volunteers welcome.

Contact

Call 0120-4143900 or send an email to info@wti.org.in

WILDLIFE FIRST

A conservation organization that works in conjunction with the government to secure the over 4% of India legally reserved for wildlife in the form of sanctuaries and national parks. Also works with local communities to ensure that they find a better quality of life outside protected areas through the implementation of voluntary resettlement programs.

What he needs

People with specialized skills, including lawyers, journalists and researchers, necessary for wildlife conservation.

Contact

www.wildlifefirst.info, call 080-26535811, or email Wildlifefirst@gmail.com

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Betty T. Simpson

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