By Seema Sharma
DEHRADUN: Uttarakhand forest authorities in an effort to curb the poaching of animals, many of them in the endangered species list, have decided to begin aerial surveillance of areas under threat to nab the smugglers. They will also actively expand the network of informers.
Chief wildlife warden DVS Khati told TOI on Wednesday, "We plan intensive campaigns to track down the hubs of poachers in high altitude forest areas. Highly endangered and elusive species such as musk deer and snow leopard are prone to poaching. Once we get funds under schemes launched by the Centre, we can reward informers. We will add more sniffer dogs to our tally of two to search for poachers with animal remains. We will also work in collaboration with army, ITBP, SSB and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau to bust the network of poachers, which extends far beyond the state."
Poachers are mostly well-equipped, and stay active through the year. The state's foresters, meanwhile, carry sticks, mostly. Any arms they carry are well past their use-by date. With the acute shortage of patrolling staff, each forester ends up having vast territories under his watch.
The state forest department, surprisingly, has no record of poachers arrested all these years. Dhananjay Mohan, anti-poaching head, said information about the arrest of poachers was not passed on to him by the divisional forest officer (DFO), so he had no records in the matter.
The topmost forest official, the principal chief conservator of the forests (PCCF) SS Sharma, said poaching-related matters fall under the jurisdiction of the wildlife wing of the forest department, so he has no records.
What that means is that the top brass of the forest department is largely ignorant about poaching, even as large numbers of animals are killed every year. The head of the anti-poaching team has neither the team nor the wherewithal for the proper discharge of his duties. What is more, files related to incidents of poaching have gone mysteriously missing.
Top forest officials were under the scanner recently as charges were made that they were "going soft" on poaching. SK Dutt, former anti-poaching head, blamed PCCF Sharma, alleging that the top forest official had ignored several petitions he had made for aid in acting against poaching incidents. Dutt had said that Sharma had ignored about 100 cases of poaching. The matter had reached the high court, which sought that the chief minister take a call in the matter.
SS Sharma, however, refuted all the charges against him and clarified that there is correspondence to show that he had sought to get at least three wildlife wardens, each with subordinate officials attached to them, and a vehicle, to strengthen the anti-poaching team. His letters to the State Wildlife Board, Sharma said, went unanswered.
The poachers target not just leopards in large numbers, but also the red-ant eater, pangolins, for their scales. "Poached body parts of endangered species like leopard and pangolin have been sent to China via Nepal. There are middle-men in the business, who take the help of local communities living inside or on the fringes of the jungles. Poachers slip out of the forest, with dissected body parts hidden in their bags," Mohan said.