Hunting has been banned since the 1970s. The animals now live in areas declared as protective sanctuaries where they are supposedly believed to have a safe and protected life away from the gun sights of the hunters but, courtesy the poachers, it is not at all so. Poaching is “the unlawful or illegal taking of wild plants or animals through hunting, harvesting, fishing or trapping”. Poaching has recently increased in India and is rapidly depleting the country of its wild life, turning the national reserves into virtual killing fields. Poaching can cause severe damage to ecosystems that are fragile. For example, if the tigers, already an endangered species, become extinct, then it will cause the collapse of an entire food chain, an ecosystem. The tigers feed mainly on herbivorous animals. If the tigers become extinct, the number of the herbivorous animals will increase exponentially. Now the increased number of the herbivorous animals will feed on the natural flora, thereby depriving the other animals of their food thus causing the collapse of an entire food chain.
A recent study on hunting by the poachers reveals that 114 species of mammals are being actively poached all over the country along with dozens of birds and reptiles. However, the most coveted of all the animals (referred to as big games in the hunting jargon) of the poachers are the tigers, elephants and the one horned Indian rhinoceroses because of their tremendous market value in the international market. Let us take the case of the tiger first, an already endangered species, bordering extinction. India has about 3200 tigers distributed in dozens of wildlife reserves across the country. A report published by the Wildlife Protection Society reveals the killing of 14 tigers in India in 2012. Eight of these poachings occurred in Maharashtra, including one which has been chopped to pieces with its head and paws missing. The forest official further unearthed traps in the reserve, home of 40 other tigers.
The poachers are extremely cunning. They often employ local poachers to do the job for them as happened recently in Nagpur and Amravati. A gang of five poachers belonging to the notorious Baheliya community from Katni, Madhya Pradesh, killed a total of nine tigers in and around Nagpur. Three of them have been apprehended, one of whom confessed selling of five tiger skins and body parts to an agent in Delhi. Such agents are distributed all over India. The number of tigers is shrinking rapidly, an alarming 50% in the last twenty-five years. According to 2010 census, the number of tigers was only 1706. Tiger body parts fetch lucrative price in the international market, and are sought after by many countries. One of the main buyers is China, where tiger bones and body parts are used in making traditional Chinese medicine. The skins will probably find their way to rich countries like the US, where they will adorn the trophy room of some Texas billionaire.
The plight of the elephants is even more pathetic as evident from the recent Hadagarh reserve forest incident, where carcasses of three elephants were discovered, two male and one female. The male elephants are more endangered because they are tuskers. Elephant tusks are often referred to as the white gold and there is a constant challenge to stop this white gold smuggling. 295 elephants have died so far in Odisha, of which 61 had been electrocuted using tripwires connected to high tension electric lines. According to a report of Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), over 121 elephants were killed by the poachers from 2008 to 2011. The report further reveals an enormous quantity of ivory that has been seized from different parts of the country which include 781 kilograms of ivory, 69 tusks, 31 pieces of cut ivory, 99 pieces of ivory carvings and 75 ivory bangles. Between 2008 and 2011, 50 elephants died in road and train accidents and 111 died from electrocution. Shocking especially in a country where elephants have a God status. Only Asian male elephants are tuskers and poaching remains their main cause of their demise.
The killing spree of the Indian single horn rhinoceroses has seriously endangered the survival of the species. Kaziranga, a world heritage site and the home of the rhinos, witnessed the poaching of 12 rhinos in 2012. 22 out of 50 rhino deaths occurred in 2011 and 7 out of 79 deaths in 2010 due to poaching. The rhino horn which is made from compressed hair fetches exorbitant price in the black market. It is basically used in China and Vietnam for manufacturing traditional medicines for cancer, hangover and arthritis. It is also used to make jewellery, bowls and cups.
The days of the honorable hunting of Jim Corbett are long gone; the heavy game rifles have been replaced by assault rifles equipped with magazines that can accommodate thirty high velocity rounds. Since most of the poaching occurs during night, the rifles are equipped with flash suppressors, a Starlite or Infrared scope and laser sighting systems. These are the favorite weapons of the poachers. Killing elephants, rhinos or tigers are child’s play now. However the poachers use all kind of methods staring from poison to gunshots to digging pits to trap the animals and of course electrocution. The forest guards on the other hand are equipped with a knife and a 12 bore shotgun. Still some states have given a shoot to kill order to the forest guards if they come face to face with the poachers.
Poaching is a heinous crime and the forest departments of the different states are taking adequate measures to stop it permanently. The sooner they succeed the better or at the rate at which the Indian wildlife is being depleted, I sincerely hope that I don’t have to see the day when Indian wildlife will prompt Mr. Steven Spielberg to make another sequel to the Jurassic Park series!
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Jim Corbett National Park