A shortage of staff poses challenge for the Uttarakhand forest department to keep tabs on rampant poaching of smaller wild species, officials said.
The government claims to have made several steps to conserve big cats and other big wild species, but the smaller animals are fast falling prey to poachers.
71% of the state is forest cover, which is about 38,000 sqkm.
But with only 2,500 permanent and about 1,100 contractual forest guards, safeguarding such a vast area has become a challenge for the department, officials said.
RR Penuily, general secretary of forest guards association, told Hindustan Times that the government hasn’t taken any step to increase the number of employees.
“Imagine each forest guard is entitled to cover 10 sqkm area. The guard is responsible for patrolling, checking illegal mining, poaching and felling and forest fire. If any illegal activity is reported in his (the guard’s) area, then the field staff is threatened or transferred,” Penuily said.
The department’s constant thrust on safeguarding big species such as tigers, leopards and elephants has led to ignorance of smaller animals as the forest guards do not pay attention to poaching of deer, pangolin, turtle, civet cat, snakes and others, say activists.
“The field staff bears so much pressure to conserve big cats and elephants that they fail to go too far to conserve smaller species like pangolin and snakes,” said Abhishekh Kumar, wildlife activist of Effect, a non-government organisation based in capital.
Chief wildlife warden Digvijay Singh Khati said poaching of small animals is also leading to a shortfall in the prey base for big cats, resulting in the animals moving to human settlements.
Wildlife Institute of India (WII) scientist Bivash Pandav said: “No doubt, deer species has declined in the wild as a result of which big cats are prowling human habitation.”
Principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) Srikant Chandola admitted the challenges and said the department is filling nearly 1,100 vacant posts of forest guards in the state.
“We want to work step by step. Once the appointment process finishes, we will try to move the proposal for creating more positions of forest guards so that we could conserve our forest in a better manner,” Chandola said.