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HindustanTimes Thu,21 Aug 2014

Specimens in schools

None   December 21, 2013
First Published: 23:25 IST(21/12/2013) | Last Updated: 23:49 IST(21/12/2013)

Specimens in schools

Many prestigious schools of the City Beautiful have in possession wildlife specimens that are used in their laboratories or museums for educational purposes.

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Following the directions of the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) and uproar by NGOs, the UT chief wildlife warden (CWW) issued a notice in a daily newspaper on December 18 asking schools to declare these specimens to his office.

However, given the rigorous technicalities embedded in India's wildlife laws, a mere declaration by schools will not suffice. "The specimens will have to be handed over to us and we will destroy them. In our notice placed in the newspaper on December 18, there was an error about the declaration. The schools will not just be required to declare but also hand over specimens to us," CWW Santosh Kumar has clarified.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2013/12/schoolspecimens300_compressed.jpgThis is so because the CBSE directive explicitly asked schools to surrender specimens. Some specimens held by schools are listed under Schedule I and Part II of Schedule II of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and thus enjoy very high protection that entails severe punishment for breaching the laws. Such specimens can only be declared to the Government of India and the scheme for granting legal ownership lapsed in 2003. Most schools in India never declared such specimens under the 2003 scheme titled 'Declaration of Wildlife Stock Rules, 2003', as the emphasis under that scheme had been on wildlife trophies that accrued from hunting.

The other complication follows from a directive of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), Delhi, that schools should procure specimens only with prior permission from the state CWW, and that they acquire no more specimens in the future. This also has not been observed by any school. (PHOTO COURTESY:
Naresh Kadyan

Apart from these technicalities, the main question is the source of these specimens. Wildlife laws have made it virtually impossible to collect specimens legally from the wild for commercial purposes such as sale to schools. Hunting is banned in India since the 1990s. Barring some schools, which procured specimens decades back from legal suppliers, the bulk of the specimens held currently (especially those possessed by new schools) are from the grey market.

Such specimens are sourced by schools from Agra-based firms, a known hub of the illegal trade in wildlife. What complicates matters is the nexus between some NGOs and cops, exerting pressure on school managements to accommodate their "sifarshi kids" at admission time or else holds out threats to conduct raids, harass and file cases against schools for possessing such specimens.

"What we propose to do is notify WCCB officers about the suppliers so that they can probe how and from where these specimens were procured," said Kumar.

No cruelty, no mercy

Besides many humans, birds also do not fancy snakes. The latter, most commonly Rat snakes, can climb trees and snatch chicks from nests as high as 40 feet. Here is a delightful account of a young research fellow, Aditi Mukherjee, at the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), Coimbatore, who clicked a stunning picture of an Ornate Flying snake merrily gobbling the chicks of a Red-vented bulbul.

Her words bring to the fore many of the moral dilemmas that confront humans in such cases of cradle snatching. "I was informed by my colleague about a snake feeding on chicks. I grabbed my friend's camera and rushed to the spot. The snake had constricted two chicks. Almost the entire SACON staff slowly gathered to watch the action. I was told by some colleagues that they used to keep an eye on those chicks daily. They had used all possible means to protect them from cats, dogs and other intruders. That morning someone heard the distress call of the parents of those chicks and realised that this time they were a bit too late. But such are the 'Laws of Nature'.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2013/12/ornateflyingsnake2_compressed.jpg

Here, this snake was unperturbed and was quite determined to finish its meal, among all disturbance and camera shutter sounds below. Slowly, the snake made a move towards one chick, holding the other from its tail. It started to gobble the first one and it was presumed at that point that it might not feed on the other. While it was busy with the first one, the other fell down but was replaced in the nest by one of my colleagues. It took the snake 20 minutes to finish off its first catch. By this time he was already a 'villain' of this film. (PHOTO COURTESY: Aditi Mukherjee)

Soon, it made its move towards the nest. In a jiffy, it started gobbling this one too (I wonder what would have happened if the chick had not been replaced in the nest!) with the distress call of parents getting louder like an intense background score to a movie. Another 35 minutes, and then came the climax. The second one was gone, too!

For the majority of the spectators it was a sad end but I just could not stop admiring the whole screenplay. I was even told that I am 'stone-hearted' for favouring the serpent, being a reptile lover myself. But such is nature, a vicious circle, with neither cruelty nor mercy, just survival tactics. The snake slowly made a royal exit from the scene, maybe to take some rest before its next hunt or to become hunted itself by a higher predator."

Aditi's click and account fetched her generous praise from none other than Bittu Sahgal, the founding editor of 'Sanctuary-Asia' magazine and long-standing member of the National Board for Wildlife chaired by the Prime Minister.

vjswild1@gmail.com

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