By Siba Mohanty
BHUBANESWAR: Both Ramu Behera and Suna Behera (names changed) belong to Hatabaradi village under Tangi and are in their teens. But they have more in common - the two are bird poachers.
Though new to the trade, theirs is a breed which is on the rise and poses a threat not only to the winged visitors of Chilika but also a challenge to the protection and enforcement staff of Chilika Wildlife Division.
In the last 10 days itself, the division has arrested at least five juveniles from the fringe areas of the brackish water lagoon on charges of hunting the migratory birds. They were arrested and produced before the Juvenile Justice Board and sent to the remand home in Berhampur.
Investigation by the wildlife officials revealed that the boys - their age ranging between 13 and 16 - are trained in setting traps to capture the birds as well as adept in poisoning the clueless avian visitors which throng the lagoon in lakhs every winter. Ramu and Suna were arrested on December 17 for killing a pheasant-tailed jacana and one purple heron by poisoning them. Five days later, another juvenile was arrested from Tentuliapada for poisoning a shoveller.
What has emerged as a clear pattern is that in most cases, family members encouraged these boys to take to hunting since they are aware that juveniles may be viewed leniently by the law and they might get relief soon, unlike in the case of adults, says Divisional Forest Officer of Chilika Wildlife Division Bikash Ranjan Dash.
Another reason why the young ones take to poaching is because family members have a similar history which puts them under scanner of the enforcement squads.
With the onset of winter, wildlife officials prepare a suspect list of hunters to keep a tab on them during periods when poaching is likely to witness a spurt, such as ‘Chhadakhai’.
“To avoid the attention of police and wildlife sleuths, the young members are now being propped up as a strategy. Since the elders already have skills, they pass it on to the young ones,” says wildlife conservationist Aditya Chandra Panda.
On November 29, the Tangi Wildlife Range sleuths arrested one 50-year-old Gandhi Behera and his 25-year-old son Nanda for killing five moorhen and a grebe. At least five kg bird meat and a country boat were seized from them.
“We are aware of their strategy to use juveniles and young ones in poaching. We prepare the prosecution accordingly,” Dash said.
City-based lawyer Sidharth Das says since juvenile offenders are treated differently under the law, the enforcement authorities must prosecute the family members as they are the real abettors to curb the practice.