Any satisfaction at the nabbing of 10 poachers in the vicinity of Corbett National Park must be tempered by an assessment of the Wildlife Protection Society of India indicating an increase in the number of cats killed by poachers in 2013. It calculates 39 “victims”, eight more than last year and just one short of the all-time high of 40 in 2005 ~ cynics would contend that there are still days to go before New Year. And that takes some of the sheen off the fact that the overall tiger deaths are down this year ~ although, not surprisingly, there are disputes over numbers between the WPSI and the sarkari/National Tiger Conservation Authority, the latter’s figures obviously being lower.
The successful anti-poaching operation in the Amangarh forest range in Bijnor is all the more worrisome because it confirms that the poachers have switched focus from Rajasthan ~ where they denuded Sariska of all its cats ~ to the Uttarakhand-UP belt. It is no comfort that the Director of Corbett should make a point of stressing that the Amangarh range (where apart from the ten men nabbed, two fresh tiger carcasses were recovered) was beyond his domain. Must wildlife management officials emulate the cops in “pushing” cases from one ‘thana’s’ jurisdiction to another?
Since reports from other forests also point to poaching activity there is reason to fear that with the Prime Minister having so much else to contend with the “pressure” on the NTCA, and officials down the line, has waned. And the minister for environment and forests has avenues more rewarding than the “tiger trail” to keep her in the news.
That has been the bane of all government-driven conservation endeavours, they lose momentum because the persons executing them have limited commitment. Of course their political bosses would deem their energies better utilised if they were spent implementing populist, vote-catching exercises ~ more so in the run-up to a general election. Would it not be tragic for all wildlife if election fever condemns protection programmes to the back-burner?
The larger reality is that key elements of the anti-poaching effort have not delivered. The rehabilitation of traditional hunting-turned-poaching communities has not been effective, certainly not effective enough to steel them against the big bucks dangled by the masterminds of clandestine trade in animal skins and body parts. Also, that there has been a complete failure of international efforts to convince the Chinese authorities to wean their people away from archaic medical practices in which the tiger’s body parts have prized therapeutic value. In a reversal of prevailing commercial trends, the Chinese market for animal body parts, red sandalwood too, is flooded with Indian “products”.