Whilst the anti snare walks are an integral part of what we do to protect our tigers, it is just as important to us to ensure that the poachers are punished to the fullest extent of the law. We work with the Forest Department in various Tiger Reserves by providing legal assistance as well A Central India legal assistance review meeting was held in Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, on October 16, 2015. The joint meeting of the Forest Department and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) was conducted with an aim to strengthen mechanism to ensure that no criminal is let off scot-free and evaluate the legal assistance provided to the forest department on a monthly basis. The meeting was held in the presence of the Field Director, Pench TR; WTI's Regional Head, a WTI Advocate, and external legal advisor and the concerned ACF’s/Range Officers of the Pench TR. WTI has been providing legal assistance to Pench Tiger Reserve by assisting the forest authorities in filing cases comprehensively and also advising them on pending cases from these areas. The aim of the meeting is to prevent crimes against wildlife as per the definitions and provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972; achieve high rate of wildlife crime conviction; and take cognizance of all wildlife cases filed with the help of IFAW-WTI’s legal assistance team in the trial courts. It was decided that a uniform reporting format will be maintained for all the wildlife crime cases and a cumulative list of the wildlife crime cases in Pench Tiger Reserve be prepared. Accordingly, the cases are prioritized on the basis of the seriousness of crime, i.e. schedule, seizure and category. They should then be dealt accordingly. During the course of the meeting, the participants also discussed how to reduce the delay in getting the update from the newly formed courts to increase efficacy. It was agreed that the above mentioned decisions taken in the meeting will be implemented at the earliest. This will steer a way towards the desired goals of ensuring high percentage/level of conviction of the wildlife criminals. Further, a meeting will be held in another three months to follow up the implementation of the decision and review the legal assistance under the guidance of the Field Director. Mr Subhoranjan Sen, Field Director, Pench Tiger Reserve, stated in the meeting that it is the primary duty of the forest staff to protect the wildlife and its habitat. To ensure the protection of the wildlife and its habitat, it is important to keep a check on the wildlife crimes happening in and around the Tiger Reserve, which is the primary duty and aim of the Forest Department. Further, he appreciated the legal assistance from WTI and asked the forest staff to take benefit from the same.
In spite of stringent laws, poaching, for various purposes, has been identified as a major threat to populations of many wild species. Wildlife trade across the country is organized and has strong international connections through the porous borders of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh & Myanmar. Approximately 4.7% of the country’s geographical area is protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and affords suitable habitat for potentially viable populations of rich wildlife. Protection for the animals and their habitat is, thus, of prime concern in the protected area network.
Central India holds one of the largest source populations of tiger and its co-predator throughout its distribution. But since last decade, poaching and illegal trading cases have increased in this landscape. Plenty of wildlife is present outside the Protected Areas (PAs) in the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) and staff in territorial divisions or outside PAs do not possess adequate knowledge on various legal aspects such as WL (P) Act, 1972 nor are they completely equipped to protect them. In fact, one of the principal difficulties in combating the poaching problem is the lack of wellequipped and trained field staff and most of the staff working outside the PAs do not possess basic personal antipoaching kits to perform their duties and responsibilities efficiently.
The Wildlife Trust of India carried out its Wildlife Crime Prevention Training Module for the Front Line Forest Staff in Madhav National Park in order to address some of these deficiencies.
Madhav National Park (MNP) is located in Madhya Pradesh (25.4667° N, 77.7500° E). The total area of MNP is 354 km2 . It was named after Madho Rao Scindia, the Maharaja of Gwalior belonging to the Scindia dynasty of the Marathas. The park is situated in Shivpuri District of Gwalior region in northwest Madhya Pradesh on Agra to Mumbai National Highway-3. The park has a varied terrain of forested hills and flat grasslands around the lake making it extremely biodiverse. Commonly sighted fauna include the graceful little chinkara or Indian gazelle, and the chital. The sambhar, chausingha or four-horned antelope, blackbuck, sloth bear, leopard and the common langur are also present here. This National park is also home to equally diverse avi fauna whilst muggars, monitor lizards and the Indian python can be found around its SakhyaSagar Lake.
The goal of the present project was to increase the operational efficiency of the frontline forest staff serving for Madhya Pradesh Forest Department. The objectives of the training were as follows:
- Create strong, motivated and well-equipped field frontline forest staff.
- Boost field staff morale for effective anti-poaching operations.
- Curb poaching and to check forest degradation
Two batches of training were conducted whereby the first batch comprised of staff that had not received any training on Wildlife Crime Prevention whilst the second batch was a refresher course for staff that had already undergone WTI's Wildlife Crime Prevention Training the year before.
The course for the new trainees included sessions on the biodiversity of Madhya Pradesh and the identification of animals through their pugmarks, scat, hoof prints etc. The course consisted of an overview of wildlife crime trends in India and globally, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India and its various sections, anti-poaching techniques, Crime Scene Investigation, intelligence gathering, interrogation techniques, and preparation of Preliminary Offence Report (POR) as well as complaints to be submitted in the trial courts with proper documentation.
During the training, audio and visual aids were used along with a practical field demonstration. In the demonstration, a mock Crime Scene was created and teams were formed for conducting the investigation. The mistakes committed by the investigation teams were pointed out to them, and they were briefed about procedures of collecting and preserving (including sealing and collection of forensic evidence) evidence. Afterwards, they were asked prepare complete set of documents to be submitted in the court along with the complaint for the crime they had investigated. The lacunae were discussed with them and they were taught how to correlate sections with the various evidences collected from the crime scene.
The refresher training consisted of a brief recap of the training from the previous year and went on to train them in more in depth methods of Wildlife Crime Prevention, including building informer networks and case studies.
A total of 48 trainees attended the training for the first time and 50 trainees were given the refresher training.
The course materials provided in the fresher and refresher training in Madhav National Park are listed below.
1. Wildlife Crime (Hindi) - provided to each participant
2. Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (Hindi) - provided to each participant
3. A field guide to Indian Mammals (Hindi) – provided to toppers in pre-training test.
4. Know your wildlife – provided in exercise groups
Pre and post training tests were conducted to assess the trainees. Feedback collected from the trainees contained an overwhelmingly positive response with around 90% of the trainees indicatingthat the exercise on mock Crime Scene Investigation was very innovative and useful for real-time investigation and the entire course to be relevant to their work.
Certificates were distributed to each trainee after the successful completion of the training. All the certificates were signed by the CCF & Field Director, Madhav National Park and Mr.Vivek Menon, Executive Director, WTI. In addition to the certificates, ‘A Field Guide to Indian Mammals’ Authored by Mr.Vivek Menon was also given as an award to those trainees who performed exceptionally well during the training.
The trainees strongly recommended that refresher training should be organised every year for the staff of Madhav National Park and fresh training should be organized for the staff of Gwalior and Morena divisions. The trainees also desired that WTI should prepare a specialized field guide on wildlife crime prevention for forest staff.
In the light of knowledge increment of trainees , their co-operation and interest, and feedback of the present training and provision of field kits, it can be assumed that the Crime Prevention Training to all frontline staff provided by WTI-MP Forest department was very useful.
Makar Sankranti is a traditional Hindu festival celebrated in most parts of India and Nepal in a myriad of cultural forms. In some parts of India it is observed with great fanfare over a period of 3-4 days. It is celebrated with distinct names and rituals in different parts of the country. For example, in the state of Gujarat it is known as Uttarayan and in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab as Maghi. In Assam it is known as Bhogali Bihu. The kite festival of Uttarayan (Makar Sankranti) is regarded as one of the biggest festivals celebrated in western part of India.
Kite flying during Uttarayan is now celebrated as a regional event in Gujarat. It is declared as a public holiday for 2 days. People often have competitions (also known as kite fighting) during which competitors will entangle the thread used while flying kites in the sky and try to cut the string off of each other's kites by pulling it.
An abrasive thread (Manja) is used while flying kites to ensure cutting the competitors string during a kite fight. Manja is made by coating regular string in glass powder and gum. Thispractice of using an abrasive thread for kite fighting has posed a great threat to species including birds, fruit-bats, monkeys and even humans. The impact on birds however is much larger. Birds when in flight, fail to notice the fine glass-coated thread and get entangled in the Manja because of which they either get injured or killed.
There has been no systematic study to quantify the impact of bird kills due to kite flying. However, a rough estimate would suggest over 10,000 avian emergencies get attended during the month of January every year. The number of birds which get injured is much higher in urban areas due to higher density of kite flying. Often, kites after its line is cut off by an opponent, drifts and gets stuck in trees. The birds get entangled in these strings and get injured due to strangulation or in an attempt to set free. This is one of the biggest reasons why rescue calls of birds continue even after the festival is over.
These days cheaper and more durable “Chinese manjha” is available in the market which is made of nylon and is non-biodegradable. This thread unlike cotton manjha does not lose its strength even after getting wet and hence stays for a long time creating potential threat for the birds.
In order to address this, a workshop on handling avian emergencies during the kite flying festival was held in Ahmedabad. It involved representatives from all over Gujarat and also from the neighbouring state of Rajasthan where kite flying is considered as an important sport. One city in Gujarat, Bhavnagar, was found to have an acute shortage of veterinarians to treat the injured birds. The project team visited Bhavnagar to assess the facilities there. The city was unique in the way that it had large colonies of painted storks right in its centre. It also has a reserve forest area (Victoria Park) within the city limits with a pond where a number of wetland bird species can be seen. Victoria Park also had an aviary where injured birds could be easily housed. In spite of having a good infrastructure at their disposal, the shortage of avian vets and proper technical guidance affected their release percentage.
Essential supplies like suture materials, surgical tools, medicines etc were also procured. The facilities at a local animal shelter were examined and suggestions were made to them to help better their capacity to respond to injured birds. A meeting was held by the forest department along with the animal husbandry department and all the local organizations and volunteers from all over Bhavnagar district to discuss about the way rescues were to be conducted. First aid kits were distributed to all the volunteers after the meeting.
Mass awareness campaigns were also held in schools and colleges in Bhavnagar and students were urged to not use glass coated strings to fly kites. Volunteers and rescue teams patrolled Bhavnagar bringing in injured birds. Locals in Bhavnagar also rescued injured birds and admitted them to the facility for further treatment and care. All the birds brought in were recorded in a register maintained by the Forest Department and a bright coloured numbered tag was applied on every bird that was brought in. Most of the birds brought in for treatment had severely mutilated wing muscles and some were also presented with fractured bones. Vets attended to these birds and surgically repaired the injuries. The bird species found injured included comb duck, painted stork, black ibis, great white pelican, myna, francolin, black drongo, rose ringed parakeet, blue-rock pigeon, and house sparrow.
The birds were then shifted to the Forest Department aviary in Victoria Park where they were fed. Wounds were dressed regularly and wounds were re-bandaged promptly when the birds loosened their bandages. Those birds which had suffered minor injuries and were found fit upon physical examination were released in the Krishnakunj lake within Victoria park. This helped relieve the birds of undue stress of captivity and ensured adequate self feeding in natural conditions. This also helped prevent unnecessary injury to the weaker birds by the healthier dominant birds.
The rest of the birds were kept in the rehab facility till they were found fit for release. Feeding and wound dressing was taken care of by the volunteers and the Forest Department from thereafter. Those birds which could not fly again were released in Krishnakunj Lake after their wounds healed.
Over a 120 birds were treated in total.
The kite flying festival continues to threaten birds across a lot of Western India and more efforts like the one above along with sustained awareness programmes will continue in order to curb this issue.