Rajendra Singh Chauhan, a Range Officer with the South Balaghat Division in Madhya Pradesh, has been actively working with the MP Forest Department team in busting the nexus of traders and poachers who deal in pangolin scales. In November 2014, their team apprehended traders with three kilograms of pangolin scales and cash. They also arrested suspects from six different states and busted a crucial network. The investigation is ongoing and the team is pursuing 12 individuals involved in the trade of pangolin scales. Till this point, everything transpired as planned but Chauhan and his team faced a legal hassle. They were not sure whether they had to issue a transit remand or protection warrant. Unaware of other legal procedures, the team was losing hope.
“While handling such cases, one of the major drawbacks is that the Forest Department personnel are not aware of court proceedings and other details which are crucial for getting these criminals behind bars. We sometimes fail to bring the guilty to the book because of the lack of knowledge of certain sections and sub sections of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. We don’t know the legal procedures and despite all the hard work, we often fail in getting the right sentence for these criminals,” he said.
Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) team caught up with Chauhan in Mandla, Kanha Tiger Reserve, where he had come to attend Wildlife Crime Prevention Training organised by Madhya Pradesh Forest Department and WTI. The training held from January 11 to 13, 2016, saw participation of 40 forest staff from Balaghat and Jabalpur forest circles.All staff were provided field kits comprising of torches, jackets, rainsuits, sleeping bags, back pack , caps and water bottles.
During the course of training, the participants were informed about various sections and sub-sections of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972; wildlife crimes and modus operandi of poachers; criminal procedure code; crime scene investigation; case presentation by investigation team in the court room; wildlife crime investigation and documentation; and complaint filing at court.
Those who represented WTI included Jose Louies, Head, Enforcement; Advocate YK Soni; Dr RP Mishra, Regional Head; and AchintyaTripathi. Interactive sessions during the course of the training saw participants enthusiastically interacting with the team and asking questions whenever in doubt.
Chauhan added, “Such trainings help us understand that what legal procedures should be used in court to get these poachers and others the maximum sentence. When we produce these criminals in court we usually can’t answer the judges and the lawyers in legal terms. Through these trainings, we get to know about all the sections and sub-sections of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, and this will help us in not repeating mistakes. This eliminates any doubts that we have about legal proceedings,” he added. He went on to say that sometimes the forest staff takes a backseat because they think that they could end up becoming the guilty party. “These trainings benefit us and empower us.”
His views were echoed by others who believed that trainings like these would go a long way in empowering the forest staff that is unaware of their powers. The training module also had a practical session on crime scene investigation wherein everyone participated with great enthusiasm. The fresher training was followed by two day refresher training which saw participation of 36 frontline forest staff. The training was held from January 15 to 16, 2016.
JS Chauhan, Field Director, Kanha Tiger Reserve, while addressing the participants said, “You need to practice this on a day to day basis otherwise it will be of no use. The whole idea of this training is to help you in investigation, protection and if needed conviction. And in future the effects of this training should reflect in that. Trainings keep happening but this training has different significance. Your way of working will get refined by this training and I hope that everyone will learn something new from here and implement it in their day to day activities.”
In a bid to equip and strengthen the frontline forest staff of the country, VRP follows a multi-pronged strategy with four thrust areas abbreviated as TEAM: Training, Equipping, Awareness and Morale Boosting, to broadly facilitate capacity building and strengthen spirits of personnel in tough field circumstances. “Training in Madhya Pradesh for frontline field staff of territorial and Forest Development Corporation divisions along with the staff posted in National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries is just another step in making our forests safer for wildlife," said Suresh Chand, Senior Advisor, VRP, WTI.
In yet another attempt to rescue and treat birds injured by kite strings during the kite flying festival also known as Uttarayan and Makar Sankranti, IFAW-WTI organized veterinary camps in Gujarat and Rajasthan. These camps were held in Porbandar and Bhavnagar in Gujarat and Jaipur in Rajasthan. IFAW-WTI collaborated with different NGOs and respective Forest Departments in these cities to ensure that relief is provided to birds that are in need of any sort of treatment. Each year hundreds of birds die after getting entangled in glass coated kite strings. In Porbandar, IFAW-WTI in collaboration with Mokarsagar Wetland Conservation Committee (MWCC) and Gujarat Forest Department set up veterinary camps in Porbandar Bird Sanctuary to attend to as many cases as possible. A control room was also set up which coordinated bird rescue calls from different parts of the city. Four veterinarians from Junagadh Veterinary College were part of the team and rendered their help in treating many urban and wild birds injured by kite strings. In addition, a wildlife rehabber was also roped in for the operative care of the injured birds.
The camp witnessed admission and treatment of more than 70 birds. Many wild species like cattle egret, little egret, Heuglin's gull, common crane, demoiselle cranes, Dalmatian pelican, yellow wagtail, white Ibis, red wattled lapwing, lesser flamingos, peacock, golden plovers, among other notable species were treated in these three days. Apart from these, a considerable number of injured rock pigeons were also treated in the camp. The treated birds were kept in an aviary (with different holding areas) where a rehabber kept them under observation. Specific feed was provided to different bird species and once the birds recovered, they were released inside the bird sanctuary and few in their natural habitat. Moreover, a team of local youth also screened many wetlands in and around the city to remove discarded kites and strings to minimize injuries.
In Bhavnagar, IFAW-WTI assisted the Forest Department in providing rescue and relief measures to the injured birds. The city in the past has witnessed a large number of birds getting injured each year due to kite strings. This year, the camp was held for three days and around 40 birds were treated and released at the camp site. Barn owls, spot billed ducks, comb ducks, ibis and flying foxes were treated by veterinarians from Anand Agricultural College. In Surat, IFAW-WTI team undertook kite string removal programme across the city.
For three years in a row, IFAW-WTI has been organising workshops, veterinary camps, awareness drives and aligning with local NGOs to save birds during the kite flying festival.
An awareness campaign on Preservation, Promotion and Protection of Biodiversity, Sensitisation of Adi Tribal Community to ban Ritual Hunting was organised jointly by Wildlife Trust of India and Adi Baane Kebang, East Siang District at Kiyit Village community hall under Mebo sub-division, East Siang.
Addressing the meeting, ABK, East Siang unit, General Secretary, Tajing Taki spoke on the aims and objectives of the meeting.
Resource person, Range Forest Officer, Mebo, Obang Tayeng highlighted the issue of the preservation of biodiversity and the implications of destruction of wildlife. Speaking in the meeting, Gaon Burah of Kiyit, Ruklik Pertin called upon all to uphold the resolutions adopted in true spirit.
The meeting adopted a complete ban on selling, using, possession and transportation of Air Guns and its pellets in Adi belt with imposition of heavy fines, to protect Daying Ering Wildlife Sanctuary by all the community members, adding limitations against destruction of Forest based produces like cane, bamboo and restriction of yearly Tree permit Quota system in Saw Mills by District Administration and Forest department. The meeting also appealed the district administration for supporting the movement for eradication of Opium, Ganja and IMFL consumption. All district and block executive members of ABK and ABK WW East Siang, Gaon Burahs, Panchayat Members and villagers attended the meeting.
It was further stressed to the district administration and forest department to book the hunters and illegal traders and punish them accordingly. The people were motivated to save wildlife as these have an indispensable role in the ecosystems and community leaders were requested to come forward in this regard.
The following laws are being imposed in by the ABK in the Adi belt:
a) Hunting and fishing by way of blasting, poison, electric current are completely banned. A fine of Rs. 25, 000/- will be imposed.
b) Blocking the stream/river by using bull dozer is completely banned. A fine of Rs. 25, 000/- will be imposed.
c) Any person hunting without the knowledge of village community will be imposed a fine Rs. 25,000/-
d) Any person from outside the village who has encroached for hunting and fishing will be imposed fine of Rs. 25,000/-
No animal hunting by gun or air gun. Restrictions on Traditional Hunting
a) Individual, group or sub-group hunting is totally banned
b) No selling and purchasing of hunted animals and birds in Adi belt.
c) Any one found breaking rules will be imposed a fine Rs. 25,000/- or punishment as per forest/Administrative law.
River/Stream (Water body Hunting)
a) Traditional way of trapping through bamboo sticks, basket netting or other form of fishing is allowed 2-3 times a year during festivals. Not open for all but area owners only.
b) Activities like blasting, using electric current, poison, diverting stream or river are totally banned.
c) Fine of Rs. 25,000/- will be imposed and the administration will take action as per law.
Section X Clause 3 of Sub-Clause (c) has also empowered village authorities to check and make strict vigil in their own village
Nine such awareness campaigns have been conducted by WTI and ABK unit across the district.