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Musings
   Prasoon S Majumdar
Prasoon S Majumdar
Editor, Economic Affairs - The Sunday Indian
Dean Academics (All India), The Indian Institute of Planning and Management
[12/09/2010]

Common sense simplified again

The issue of wildlife poaching is bereft of a logical outlook

I have admired Aircel’s campaign of conserving tigers. It has been so effective and expansive that almost everybody know that there are 1,411 tigers left in our forest reserves. A couple of months back, our Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh called for a CBI probe into the seizure of huge amount of wildlife parts (mostly tigers) worth Rs 5 crore at Guwahati Airport. Besides, the fact that this move may lead to unfolding of huge wildlife smuggling in India, the seizure speaks volumes about the corroded wildlife security across the nation. Hunting for wild animals has been an age-old phenomenon. One visit to Bharatpur bird sanctuary, and one could see a board which records the feats of ex–rulers and Britishers, who had killed millions of migratory birds, for whom Bharatpur used to be the second home. So, with dwindling numbers of wildlife, especially the endangered species, it is now or never.

With encroachment of forest and protected areas by humans, the security of protected areas (inhabiting endangered wildlife) is dwindling. This has eventually increased the incidences of man-animal conflicts leading to poaching as well. This illegal poaching, sometime in veil of man-animal conflict, is largely fuelled by the demand of wildlife body parts from other countries, if not India. Going by conservative estimates, wildlife products trade can be valued at nearly $20 billion in the global market, making it a third largest illegal trade. So much so that, 10 grams of tiger bones can be sold at one lakh rupees per kilo. Similarly, a single Rhino’s horn can be sold at $40,000. In countries like Tibet and China, tiger skins are sold at around $20,000. According to Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), India has lost more than 400 tigers since the year 2000. Beside tigers, India has also lost more than 60 leopards in the first two months of the year 2010.

With wildlife trading being transacted over internet, it is virtually becoming easier for suppliers and customer to interact. At the same time given the kind of lapses that we have on security of protected areas, poaching and wildlife trading is also becoming easier, especially for professional smugglers. Even today there is shortage of trained professionals in protected zones. The vacancy is up to 50 per cent and those who are on duty are aged and ill-equipped. Moreover, there is a huge chance of these protectors indulging in corruption and poaching themselves, especially because of the salary that they get. Most of these guards don’t even get more than Rs 400 per month. Wildlife poaching has seen an increase in recent times, especially after China has banned wildlife trade. According to Belinda Wright of WPSI, "Consumers in China prefer parts from wild tigers and not ones bred in farms, and this demand is proving to be a direct threat to the wild tigers in India."

On the outset, there is an urgent need to well-equip the officials in the protected areas. Necessary modern equipments ranging from patrolling vehicles to state-of-the-art surveillance systems need to be provided. On policy level, India requires a foolproof security procedure in protected areas. From administrative changes and stringent jurisdiction to rational land use policy needs to be put in place. The state governments along with the Centre need to devise more effective intelligence and customs control measures. And lastly, everything would fail, till the incentives for not killing the wildlife is more than killing them. If the whistle-blowers are adequately compensated on informing of poachers, they would definitely ensure to put a stop on poaching! Common sense.. Isn’t it?




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