Wildlife smuggling continues in frontier areas
DEHRADUN: The Pithoragarh case in which three leopard skins were smuggled from Nepal highlights the flourishing illegal cross-border wildlife trade despite the presence of central armed police forces in frontier areas.
Earlier, the Sashastra Seema Bal and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police have helped in cracking several wildlife crime cases. Ironically, the ‘carrier’ in Pithoragarh was arrested a few days after the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and the Wildlife Institute of India discussed a strategy with Nepalese officials on checking illegal wildlife trade, and discussed strengthening border vigilance.
Those involved in wildlife conservation feel involvement of locals, lack of sources on ground to identify and monitor suspects and lack of plan to avert poaching are undoing the efforts to save wild animals, including the leopard. “Border is a very sensitive area and we have defence forces that keep a watch over everything. With limited staff with us, it is impossible to man every big cat,” chief wildlife warden Digvijay Singh Khati said.
So far, the forest department has failed to create a network of informers in border areas as well as the adjoiningvillages outside protected areas. In June, a resident of Mothrawala in Dehradun forest division was arrested with a leopard skin. Prior to that body parts of pangolins and jackals were seized from bordering villages of the Rajaji Tiger Reserve.
“Involvement of locals can only be monitored if there’s extensive network of sources on the ground. The forest department of Uttarakhand lacks this network,” a forest officer said.
Sunish Kumar, project director at Delhi-based NGO Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), holds the same view. “We do have agencies like the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and other NGOs, but what we lack is a network of people on the ground that can rigorously work on such cases. These people can be locals, forest staff, police or even sources,” Kumar told Hindustan Times.
According to the WPSI, 336 leopards have died till September 28 this year in the country. Uttarakhand tops the list with 78 mortalities of which 37 were poaching and seizure cases. The state also reports maximum leopard attacks on humans.
Madhya Pradesh comes a distant second with 32 mortalities, including 15 of poaching and seizures. The forest department is not counting the Pithoragarh case as it maintains that the three leopards - protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act - are not from the state.