Heads of 16 villages bordering a tiger reserve in Arunachal Pradesh have joined hands to form a committee to protect the reserve where hunting of wild animals illegally has been a common practice.
The 16-member committee in conjunction with the forest department is to work for protection of the Pakke Tiger Reserve, about 250 km from the Chinese border.
The committee, locally called as "Ghora Aabhe", recently passed a resolution listing penalties for wildlife violations of 17 different wild species ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 30,000.
"Following this initiative, about 32 illegal locally made guns were seized from poachers. Many of the poachers have now promised to work for protection of the reserve," said Tana Tapi, divisional forest officer, who helped the villagers to form the committee.
A conservation organisation, the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), which is supporting the "Gaon Burahs" - village heads - with honorariums to carry out conservation actions, said villagers have been keeping a strict vigil in the reserve, which has led to the recovery of arms.
The 862sq km Pakke Reserve in East Kameng district is home to many rare and endangered wildlife species, such as tiger, leopard, wild dog, Himalayan black bear and elephant.
Although wildlife trade is not prevalent here as in other parts of the country, hunting for food has been a major threat to wildlife.
"The reduction in hunting, particularly of prey species of the tiger, will help tiger conservation in the long run," said PC Bhattacharjee, professor at Gauhati University.
The committee would work to strengthen intelligence networks, enforcement activities and create awareness for conservation among the people. Repeated seizures would also act as a deterrent for likely offenders, Tapi said.
"The Gaon Burah's role is crucial since they can persuade people for sustainable use of natural resources," said Bhattacharjee.
"This initiative can be a role model elsewhere in the country where problems of hunting for food and trade are widespread. Fringe villages adjoining huge unmanned wildlife sanctuaries can play a stellar role in conservation," said Rahul Kaul, director conservation of WTI, who is supervising the project in Pakke.
"The Pakke Reserve, which is contiguous with the Nameri Tiger Reserve of Assam, is an important habitat for the big cats. This move by the villagers is an important step forward particularly in the light of the present tiger crisis in the country," he said.