Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wildlife crime- a cause of concern.
An incident of a recent raid and recovery of wild pig meat at Karapur, Bicholim has once again raised questions about the continued illegal trade and consumption of wild meat and is a reminder that the illegal trade in wild life is still alive in most parts of the state despite a ban under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
That a large number of such instances of trade in wild meat and animal parts, endangered plants, live animals as pets, trophies, etc go unnoticed is a bare fact and needs to be taken seriously by our law enforcement agencies including the Goa Forest Department, the Goa Police and the Food and Drugs Department too!
We need to now accept the reality that this is an organized and yet decentralized trade with a few key players involved in every taluka of Goa who maybe part of a network that ensures continuous supply of wild animals in illegal trade including wild pig, sambar, crocodiles, porcupine, barking deer, mouse deer, etc not only to the rich and famous but to certain commercial establishments as well by channels that need to be detected and crushed before it becomes too late.
Let’s face it. Poaching still goes unabated in most of our protected areas, and while levels vary according to the commitment and zeal of local field staff, it is the sheer inadequateness of logistical support and manpower that takes it toll on our men in the forests, i.e. the field staff of the Forest Department. And whilst an intelligence network is negligible in areas like Mahdei wildlife sanctuary and Netravali wildlife sanctuary to report and inform of incidents related to any type of wildlife crime, it is the sheer gap of communication between officers in uniform and the masses that is of concern- as rarely does one find anyone report wildlife related crimes to either the Police or the Forest Department.
There is thus an urgent need to address this issue in a two fold manner. Firstly, the long pending demand of establishing a separate Wildlife Crime cell on the basis of the Narcotics cell of the Police Department needs to be addressed at a Policy level and implemented at the earliest. We as a state need to realize that we are custodians of a rich biodiversity that includes coastal habitats, mangrove habitats, the Western Ghats and scores of flora and fauna that inhabit them, many of which have a price in the local as well as international black market of wildlife trade. The only way to monitor and protect this diversity is to create a dedicated team of trained professionals for dealing with wildlife crimes and having experts for detection, testing, law and above all prevention and awareness creation about the issue. This will not only curb matters related to wildlife poaching for consumption and trade but will also help curtail trade in illegal animal parts from peacock feathers to monitor skins and more. In fact it is also the need of the hour for the State Police force to realize that wildlife crime gets related to the narcotics and arms trade sooner or later as the linkages have long been established in neighboring states of Karnataka and Maharashtra. That this issue of every Tom Dick and Harry possessing country made guns and crude bombs, establishing camps for the purpose of poaching in the hinterlands and trading in wildlife parts in an organized nexus is a serious law and order issue, which need attention of the top brass on an urgent level.
Secondly, appointments of Honorary Wildlife Wardens is now essential as these individuals, often chosen due to their work in conservation as well as with the people are apt at performing the role of the eyes and ears of the official agencies. They will not only act as grassroots conservationists but will convey the role of the Forest Department as a custodian of our forests to the masses in a better way than official agencies. Without common people to support and inform, believe me, the cause of wildlife conservation is a lost cause. The need to chose nature lovers from the masses itself and empower them with powers under the Wildlife Protection Act by appointing them as Honorary Wildlife Wardens is necessary if we have to create awareness and protect our wildlife from the illegal wildlife trade.
And lastly, we as a people also need to realize that the illegal wildlife trade flourishes because there is a demand from us, yes us. As the popular saying goes, “when the buying stops, the killing will too!” We need to understand that the rapidly depleting numbers of endangered species, both plant and animal will have a direct impact on our ecosystems as well as our own race, a fact that is as bare as can be. Being aware and conscious of our duty to protect our wildlife and its habitats is as crucial as being vigilant and reporting instances of wildlife crime to authorities in the state. Together, with our official agencies and our support, we will have to curb wildlife crime and its related perils from affecting our state’s rich biodiversity. Keep the faith.

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