Background: Wildlife trade is identified as one of the major threats to the survival of many species in India. Several species of wildlife are under constant threat due to illegal commercial exploitation. Wildlife trade control is carried out by various enforcement agencies across the country.
Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) tries to fill in certain gaps, by assisting these agencies through its Wildlife Trade Control Project. The project area, peninsular India is a historic source for animal products and trophies obtained from tigers, leopards elephants which are further traded in the international markets. The traditional tiger hunting communities such as pardhies and bawarias are also active in these areas. Poaching and trade of wildlife for bush-meat is also widespread across the region which affects not only the ecology of species like spotted deer, gaur and sambar but also the long-term survival of predators like tiger and leopard. Local hunters use hand-made guns, snares, etc., to poach wild animals and they sell valuable body parts to established gangs through existing networks of carriers and agents.
A number of interstate poaching gangs have been intercepted by various State Forest Departments with assistance from WTI's team. Since the start of the project in 2009, WTI has assisted State Forest Departments in confiscating tiger skins, leopard skins, ivory and arrest of suspects. Hundreds of wire snares have been removed during anti-snare walks which are conducted in association with frontline forest guards in Tiger Reserves. The project also acts as a platform to impart training to frontline staff in the Project area. WTI has also carried out anti snare work last year and removed number of electrocution and snare from those fringe and buffer areas. WTI team has also assisted in many cases to helping monitor wildlife crime and providing technical assistance. The trade control activities will be done in association with the local community and Forest Department.
Activities conducted during last quarter:-
The suspects were residents of Karnataka state, belonging to the Hakki Pikki community. They had both been involved in smuggling for a long time.
Our team is also looking into the highly lucrative and highly illegal pangolin and otter trade. The main aspects of the study will include a survey on the distribution pattern of the species and gathering intelligence on suspected poachers
Wildlife crime is one of the major threats to the survival of flagship species like tigers, elephant and leopards. India’s frontline forest staff has been facing adverse field conditions and organised wildlife crime. Criminals often escape due to the staff not having proper knowledge on wildlife law, crime prevention, intelligence collection, crime investigation, reporting and procedures in the court handling wildlife crime.
Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) believes that Wildlife Crime Prevention training under its Guardians of the Wild or Van Rakshak Project (VRP) plays an important role in conservation through training, equipping and educating frontline forest guards which are a major step towards protecting forests and wildlife. With this noble aim, WTI has so far trained 14400 frontline forest staff in India.
Between April and July 2015, WTI team have given refresher training to and equipped a total of 282 frontline forest staff of Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh. This refresher module was for all the staff in Pench that had undergone new training on the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 of India and its various sections, antipoaching patrolling techniques, crime scene investigation, intelligence gathering, interrogation techniques, and preparation of Preliminary Offence Report (POR). Their increased knowledge was evaluated through pre and post test on the subject taught and found an average 11% knowledge gain.
Since April we have received 5 claims under supplementary accidental insurance scheme and provided ex gratia support to 4 persons including one death. We maintain a Protected Area Staff Status (PASS) data base and have signed on more than 20000 frontline staff so far to benefit from this insurance scheme including 122 new entries for the state of Assam. We have already designed and finalised posters on the scheme in four regional languages and going to distribute to the Forest Divisions of Assam, Chattishgarh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
For the next quarter, we have already planned to start 8 fresh and 8 refresher training in 16 territorial circles of Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, which would commence from 6th of August in Bandhavgarh and will subsequently conduct the remaining in Panna, Madhav, Ratapani, Ralamandal, Kanha, Pench and Satpuda forests. In collaboration with Chhattisgarh Forest Department, we are also going to conduct VRP training in Barnawapara and Jagdalpur of Chhattisgarh. VRP training will be also conducted in Valmiki Tiger Reserve. Both Chattishgarh and Bihar trainings will commence in September. In addition to those training programmes, we planned to conduct VRP training programmes in Assam, Maharashtra and Bhutan.
Through Wildlife Crime Prevention training, we have trained and equipped frontline forest staff of over a 120 PAs in India and we hope to continue strengthening wildlife-protection measures through building capacity in and boosting the morale of frontline forest staff.
The villages of Chota Changru, Bara Changru, and Bantha Reladih in Jharkhand’s Ranchi Forest Division are located in a very close proximity to the forest. Many open wells are constructed in and around the farmlands for irrigating the crop fields in the villages. Often, these farmers abandon these wells once they dry.
Habitat fragmentation and degradation compels the migratory and resident elephant herds to enter into crop fields in search of food and water. The elephants especially the calves that enter the area are unable to detect these open wells around the crop fields because of the foliage and the tall weeds around the wells. These wells become a death trap for the calves and other wildlife that fall inside and are unable to escape. During the years 2012 to 2014, five cases have been reported where the elephant calves have fallen inside these open wells. Although the villagers and the Forest Department authorities were successful in rescuing three calves in time, but the remaining two could not be rescued and died.
A project was initiated in conjunction with the Forest department, local organization “Jungle Boy Trust” in the year 2013, with funding and technical assistance from WTI. The aim of the project was to build a wall around the sunken wells using stones and mortar that were located in the pathways frequently visited by the elephants. The aim was to help the elephants and other wildlife to easily detect the wells and hence avoid falling into them.
Along with the main purpose to eradicate elephant deaths caused by open wells, the project was also successful in spreading awareness amongst the villagers by depicting posters and conservation messages on the walls of the wells and by involving local people in the project.
A total of nine wells have been covered in the villages of Chota Changru, Bara Changru, and Bantha Reladih since the project started. Regular field monitoring indicates the project is successful in avoiding any incidences of elephant deaths caused due to falling into the wells since they have been covered. Though, the project addressed the critical abandoned wells in a targeted region, there are still many more open wells remaining in the neighboring villages that are dangerous.
It is now time to restart the project in a new site, assess the wells there and cover the ones that pose a threat so that the elephants in Jharkhand can traverse their traditional paths safely once again.