Wildlife Trust of India through a Rapid Action Project provided 85 pairs of high altitude boots in November to the patrolling staff of Dachigam National Park to equip them for the winter and snow.
Dachigam National park is located 22 km from Srinagar in the northernmost Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Covering an area of 141 sq. km, the park had initially been protected since 1910 by the royal family of J&K and later under Indian law by declaration as a national park in 1981. Dachigam literally means ‘ten villages’ in memory of the ten villages that were relocated for its formation.
Located among the high mountains of the mighty western Himalayas, the variation in altitude is vast, ranging from 5500 ft to 14000 ft above mean sea level. The terrain ranges from gently sloping grasslands to sharp rocky outcrops and cliffs. The park has alpine pastures, meadows, waterfalls and scrub vegetation with deep gullies running down the mountain face and most of the grasslands and meadows, except during winters, are covered with brightly coloured flowers. The park is famous for being home to the endangered Hangul (Cervus elaphus hanglu) - the Kashmir stag that is the state animal of which only about 200 remain within Dachigam National Park, as per a survey undertaken by WTI and the J&K Department of Wildlife.
This beautiful park is protected by a dedicated band of forest staff who patrol the park on foot every day in every season keeping a watch for poachers, illegal graziers, and forest fires. Grasslands being the most vulnerable to forest fires, fire lines of more than 10 km in length and 15 feet in width are being prepared and will be maintained throughout the year.
The patrolling party, constituting the Block Officers, Beat Guards and seasonal manual labour, plays a key role in the early detection of these fires and most of the time is able to check them with minimum damage to wildlife. The tough mountain boots provided were very well received by the staff who said that it would greatly ease the discomfort associated with hiking across rocky mountain terrain.
Every year, countless animals lose their lives to snares and traps laid by poachers. Once caught in them, these silent killers condemn the animal to a slow painful death. Poachers prefer to use weapons like these rather than guns as they are cheap and quick to prepare and can be dismantled into component parts and transported without raising suspicion. Moreover, they do not draw attention to themselves as discharging a gun would do.
These snares are then planted on animal trails OUTSIDE protected areas where patrolling is minimal and chance human encounters rare. Snares have long been used to trap ungulates which are the prey species of large cats like the tiger and leopard. Depletion of prey stock results in the big cat resorting to cattle killing and bringing down upon it the wrath of villagers ready to avenge their loss. Besides this, cast iron jaw traps and large snares made of fencing wire are used by poachers to specifically trap and kill the large cats.
WTI conducts regular snare-combing walks in the fringes of protected areas. These walks involve Forest Department staff as well as local youth. Training forest guards to locate and remove traps and snares is of crucial importance, because if this rampant killing is not checked in time, India's tigers are poised to lose the race against extinction.
In April 2012, training sessions on Wildlife Crime Prevention was initiated in Manas National Park in Assam, India, to build capacity of more than 550 front line forest guards who protect this World Heritage Site. The training modules were custom designed by the WTI Guardians of the Wild team to build a knowledgeable, strong and motivated front line force to curb wildlife crime.
The course began with an overview of trends in wildlife crime in India and around the world. Subsequent topics dealt with various aspects of Indian wildlife law (Wildlife Protection Act, 1972), poaching prevention techniques, crime scene investigation, intelligence gathering, and preparation of the Preliminary Offence Report (POR). Information on procedures and techniques for collection and preservation of evidence from the crime scene was also imparted. A mock crime scene investigation was also played out as part of the field demonstration.
About 550 foot patrolling kits consisting of a backpack, winter jacket, waterproof poncho, water bottle, torch and cap were distributed to the front line forest guards. The equipment had been selected taking into consideration the terrain and weather conditions that the guards experience while patroling their beat. Six anti-poaching camps in the remote Chirang Reserve Forest were also provided with solar powered equipment for charging communication devices. With the improvement in communication between forest camps, forest guards in this area have carried out four successful operations against poachers and encroachers over the past month.
WTI’s work in Manas began in the early 2000s, with research to generate the crucial baseline data immediately after peace was restored following two decades of civil unrest. Since then, numerous initiatives have been implemented to facilitate landscape conservation through a holistic approach. In addition to advocating and garnering political will to create Greater Manas, these also include promotion of green livelihoods, awareness generation, and pioneering initiatives like the reintroduction of rhinos in Manas, rehabilitation of rare and endangered wildlife including clouded leopards, tiger, elephants, Asiatic black bears, and many other displaced animals.
Mohammad Hasen Ali (inset) and his team were patrolling their beat in Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park in Assam at about 2.30 am in 2010, when they encountered a gang of rhino poachers. Shots were fired and the poachers made good their escape leaving behind a wounded Hasen Ali. Ali’s team rushed him to the nearest medical facility but he was dead on arrival.
Ali is survived by his wife, Rabia Khatun, his aged parents and six children (two daughters and four sons). He was the only earning member in the family. His family received one lakh rupees ($2000) as terminal benefit facilitated through Wildlife Trust of India (WTI)’s Guardians of the Wild (Van Rakshak Project) that runs an umbrella insurance scheme for front-line staff across the country. Ali was among the 18,000 forest guards insured under this scheme.
Handing over the cheque, the Assam State Forest Minister, Mr. Rockybul Hussain, said, “We thank WTI for this help to the family of the deceased. It is definitely a significant support for our staff. We need such organisations to help us and we are thankful that WTI always works in collaboration with the Forest Department.” “Wildlife in Assam is safe and sound because of dedicated officers like Hasen Ali. They have devoted their whole lives to protect the wildlife heritage, biodiversity and habitats and the supreme sacrifice of these people should be recognized, respected and compensated. This will encourage them to work with the same kind of dedication and commitment, and the future of our wildlife will be safe,” said Suresh Chand, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife).
WTI’s Guardians of the Wild project also trains and equips front-line staff across the country to combat wildlife crime. More than 8,600 front-line staff members from over 100 protected areas and more than 25 other wildlife areas have been trained under this project.
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