Wildlife mismanaged

The biggest threat to wildlife comes from foresters themselves

By Avdash Kaushal And Anmol Jain
Published: Thursday 31 May 2001

-- (Credit: Soumen Bhowmick)The death of wild animals in a zoo is, indeed a shocking phenomenon. On one hand the government and international agencies spend crores of rupees to save the tiger and on the other we murder 12 tigers due to gross negligence. The highly qualified doctors who vaccinated the tigers at Nandan Kanan zoo should be severely punished. The Nandan Kanan zoo has a history of reported deaths. Fifty newborn cubs have died since 1995.

According to estimates one tiger is being killed everyday by poachers and on numerous occasions the concerned authorities have been guilty of assisting them. In the 19th century there was an estimated number of 100,000 wild tigers in Asia out of which India accounted for 40,000 tigers. At the turn of the century only 5,000-6,000 tigers are estimated to have survived out of which 4,000 belong to India.

The apathy of the authorities in dealing with tiger deaths is all but too evident. When the first tiger died no effort was made to check the condition of the other tigers. Only when another tiger showed the same symptoms the officials administered Berenil to the infected tigers. Experts were never consulted and the tigers died due to lack of proper treatment. Worse, the exact cause of the death was not ascertained. One theory claimed that the tigers died due to wrong medicine, the other stated that the cause could be bad meat. Some officials blamed paucity of funds for the lack of proper care.

Action needs to be taken against these callous forest officials. Unfortunately the framing of the Wildlife protection act 1972 has left the door open for erring forest officials. The act says " No suit, prosecution or legal proceedings shall lie against any officer or other employee of the central government or state government for anything done in good faith or intended to be done under this act." This is a license for illegal activities.

Deaths in the zoo have become a common phenomenon. A hippopotamus died after falling into a pit dug for moat construction. In another incident five deer were mauled by stray dogs in Chamarajendra zoo in Mysore. A pregnant elephant sent to Lucknow zoo for delivery also died. These increasing cases adequately demonstrate that the wildlife authorities are incompetent to manage even those animals that are in their custody let alone the wildlife roaming free in the country.

An examination of the reports from all over the country would reveal that the biggest threat to wildlife comes from the foresters themselves. A case in point is the killing of deer in the Malsi Deer park, in Dehradun. It was later discovered that the deer was served as a delicacy at a party, organised in honour of a high official in the forest bureaucracy. In another incident, at Mohkampur near Dehradun a leopard stalking the village was caught in the nets of the forest officials. Instead of taking it elsewhere the leopard was allowed to die a slow and painful death. To add to the long list of hapless animal deaths is the death of four elephants in the Rajaji National Park, in the Siwaliks. They were tranquilised for the purpose of radio collaring but were found dead with their tusks missing.

It is estimated that the global annual trade in wildlife is to the tune of us $ 25 billion of which a major share comes from India. The demand for tiger bones from China and Taiwan has led to the rampant poaching of tigers. Despite the money being spent on Project Tiger protecting the tiger from the poachers remains an unfulfilled task.

It is high time that the wildlife authorities become pro-active and sincerely fulfil the role they have been employed for. Otherwise with the current trends persisting it is advisable to close down the zoos in a phased manner before the lives of more animals are lost.

The writers are working with Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun

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