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Maharashtra says shoot poachers, debate is about how else to stop them

 

Indian Express,
Vivek Deshpande : Nagpur, Tue May 29 2012

In allowing forest staff to fire on poachers, Maharashtra’s stated objective was to protect its tigers. The challenge in meeting that, however, is to curb the means that poachers use on tigers, those working on the ground say.

Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam said last week he had issued orders to provide forest staff with firearms and decided to protect them from criminal proceedings should they use these against people caught poaching or smuggling forest wealth. “Poachers are out for supari killings of 25 tigers,” he told The Indian Express. “Now if we don’t prevent poachers from killing tigers, what are we expected to do? Officers raised the issue of problems faced by them in the field. By shooting freedom, I meant the officers have to take the call proportional to the situation and use guns if the situation warrants it. We will protect them if they have used guns as per prescriptions, and will not protect them if a magisterial inquiry reveals unwarranted firing.”

Some of the supporters of the order have cited the need to contain timber smugglers, who are often armed. Tiger poachers, on the other hand, never use guns, said Nitin Desai, Central India director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. This is because bullet holes would make the tiger skin unfit for the target market.

“The ground-level staff need basic training in understanding how poachers work,” said Desai. “Poachers have generations of knowledge of how to finish off a job without getting noticed. They are not only experts in locating tigers but also thorough in understanding tiger behaviour, with contacts for intelligence and active help from locals.”

Saving the tiger

“Training is key,” said principal secretary (forest) Pravin Pardeshi. “We have recruited nearly 1,200 new guards. All are being trained in foot patrolling with experienced guards and through training schools.” He stressed the need to involve local people in vigilance.

Of all animals poached, only two in every 10 are shot dead. According to the findings of the WPSI, which works with states across the country, four in 10 animals are killed by electrocution, two by trapping and the remaining two by poisoning.

Electrocution can be curbed only with joint monitoring by the forest and electricity departments. “[It] should lead to immediate tripping of electricity and the location should be easily found by electricity officials,” Desai said. “But in many cases tripping doesn’t happen, putting a question mark over how technically foolproof electrical installations are.” He cited the recent electrocution of leopards at Pench, over which the forest department has registered offences against Mahavitaran, the distribution agency.



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