- News channels conduct events to save the tiger and socialites lend their voice to a worthy cause for some other endangered species. We routinely hear of conservationists keeping a usually solitary vigil on poachers and ruthless criminals who couldn’t care less about the country’s natural heritage or the fragile eco system that is so critically poised on the brink of destruction at several locations across the country. But what is really being done for Wildlife Conservation in India?
- The Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar devised a way to discourage poaching – by the public destruction of illegal animal parts which have been derived from poaching. About 42,000 items that were confiscated from poachers were set ablaze at the Delhi Zoo. These included shahtoosh shawls, tiger and leopard skins, rhino horns, reptile skins and so on. this was done in order to send out a message to poachers and others; to “deplore the unethical, indiscriminate and most unlawful activities of harvest and trade of wildlife products,” (Source – Washington Post)
- This is clearly a case of “Something must be done. This is something, therefore let us do it”. Mr. Javdekar may be trying to send out a message by making a public show of destroying poached items, but how will this exercise curtail the activities of poachers? This is very much a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
- How is destroying the fruits of poaching going to help with wildlife conservation? The logic here is distinctly twisted. The thrust here has to be on prevention – punishment post de facto is quite meaningless to the cause of conservation because clearly, deterrence doesn’t work here.
- Such misguided action is of a piece with Maneka Gandhi’s efforts to protect stray dogs in urban areas even at the cost of their own dereliction and the threat that they pose to people. Her meddling in civil matters is clearly a hindrance but apparently this is more important than actually using the resources at her disposal for actual conservation efforts.
- A report last year showed that tiger poaching in India was at its highest in 7 years. 42 tigers were killed in 2013, which is the highest number since 2005 when 46 tigers were killed. Illegal exports to China pose the greatest threats to India’s national animal the tiger. Not only is there a high demand for powdered tiger bones, some people bizarrely confess to having an appetite for “eating tiger penis and drinking tiger blood.” From the whiskers to the tail, every part of the tiger is thought to have healing properties in traditional Chinese medicine. (Source – Wildlife Protection Society of India)
- Myanmar poachers pose an additional threat to Indian ecology, particularly to areas such as the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Coral, exotic fish and the prized sea cucumber (which can fetch a pretty penny in Japan and China for their supposed medicinal value). The poachers come in small vessels at night and escape aboard bigger boats. According to estimates, only about 15 to 20 % of poachers are caught; the rest manage to escape. (Source – Reuters)
- While conservationists and NGOs seem to be doing their bit towards conservation, funds received from international organisations seem to be utilised more for paying salaries than saving tigers because their numbers continue to decline steadily. And if poaching is so rampant; and it clearly is, then is it possible without the participation or at least the connivance of forestry officers and the bureaucrats in charge?
Photo – SAJJAD HUSSAIN, AFP/Getty Images