Exclusive

Bottlenecks jam wildlife conservation efforts in Manipur

Despite serious efforts made by the government and stakeholders to reduce the threat to the existence of wildlife, wildlife conservation in Manipur remains a challenge due to various obstacles.

ByBabie Shirin

Updated 27 Sept 2022, 11:38 am

Kuilong, Manipur (PHOTO: IFP)
Kuilong, Manipur (PHOTO: IFP)

 

A young boy, pulling out his prized possession–a wooden slingshot, targets a pretty bird perched on a green tree and proudly brings home a dead bird. And one fine day, a young man, armed with an airgun, goes deep into the forest to hunt, to get a sumptuous dinner for his family living in a remote village. Taking pride under the shadow of ignorance, they do not consider their action as an offence. While this traditional practice continues in some villages of the state as a means of livelihood and survival, there are those who are better armed with new tools and equipment committing wildlife crime, little realizing that their untamed action is posing a threat to the existence of wildlife in biodiversity-rich Manipur.

In view of it, serious efforts are being made by the government and stakeholders to reduce the threat to the existence of wild animals and birds. However, wildlife conservation remains a challenge due to several bottlenecks that are highlighted by divisional forest officer (DFO), Imphal, RK Amarjit Singh in an exclusive interview to the Imphal Free Press.

Situated in Indo-Malayan biological hotspot, Manipur is endowed with diverse biological species, both plants and animals (domesticated and wild). The state’s unique landforms and altitude provide different types of habitats conducive to various forms of flora and fauna and all types of wildlife.

However, being a border state, Manipur shares porous international boundary with Myanmar, attracting increase in illegal wildlife traffickers, which is impeding wildlife conservation in the state, Amarjit Singh said.

The Government of India, no doubt has a legal and policy framework to regulate and restrict wildlife trade. Under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, trade in over 1800 species of wild animals, plants and their derivatives is prohibited in India, according to official records.

The existence of diverse wildlife in the region, however, has been facing threat owing to several other factors, apart from wildlife crime such as the traditional practice of hunting of wild birds and animals and illegal wildlife trade.

The divisional forest officer highlighted other concerning issues that need to be addressed urgently.

Manipur also faces revenue crunch besides the problem of lack of awareness and porous border, he said.

Owing to the problem of revenue crunch, the state makes lesser investment in the field of wildlife protection and management, such as prevention and detection of wildlife crime, he said.

The forest officer also pointed out that there is the problem of insufficient skilled manpower in the forest department. Acute shortage of staff and diverse responsibility are ground difficulties faced by forest officials in coping with the challenges in wildlife conservation, he said.

Amarjit Singh also raised several shortcomings of field staff. Officials, especially the lower field functionaries, are not well-versed in collection and collation of intelligence, detection, search, seizure, handling of seizures, arrest, investigation, samples verification related to biodiversity in the state, he said.

Apart from it, the state does not have a specific format or platform for making complaints or grievances if there are any, Singh said.

There is a lack of knowledge updating and coordination with other agencies, he said, adding that seizures in wildlife offences are normally not made by the forest department.

Speaking about the bottlenecks and limited infrastructure in the state, Singh said that in the process of wildlife management, it is difficult to arrest the offender by unarmed staff. Even when arrested, there are a few means of transportation and verification.

There is also no provision of lock-up in the forest department for proper detention of arrested persons, he pointed out.

“There is no lock up system still in the forest department to detain the offenders. We are taking help from the police,” he said. The presence of forest field staff is required at the police station, particularly during night hours in case of any arrest made.

In the matter of legal backup, Singh also pointed out the absence of a separate establishment for prosecution of the offenders in the forest department of Manipur till today.

Owing to the shortage of manpower, no legal officer is available in some of the forest head offices, he said.

Advertisement

The forest officer further said that all required legal formalities are completed by the DFO and his subordinate officers. Wildlife matters are often kept on the backburner, he added.

“Wildlife trade and trafficking often go unnoticed at several forest check gates as officers only look for visible illegal transportations,” Singh said.

Training and motivation of beat officers and range officers are comparatively less in the field of wildlife crimes, the forest officer said.

Singh informed that individuals accused in wildlife offences are normally armed, trained and hardened. And, hence, forest field staff find it difficult to encounter them.

Singh also mentioned the challenges of lack of legal knowledge or awareness related to wildlife crimes among the people.

Legal awareness initiatives need to be scaled up, especially in remote areas of the state to make people aware of the importance of wildlife protection, he said.

He suggests establishment of a prosecution wing in the forest department, arming the forest field functionaries, appointing law officers for all 14 divisions and increasing budgetary allocation in the wildlife wing.

According to Ningombam John, Additional Superintendent of Police and CID of Crime Branch, Manipur, said that a majority of the people of Manipur are meat eaters. They hunt mainly for consumption and selling of rare meat though doing so is a crime. It is because there is ignorance about the gravity of wildlife crime.

Police personnel also lack awareness and training in the wildlife sector, John said, while speaking exclusively to the Imphal Free press.

The vast inaccessible terrain in Manipur makes it difficult for proper advocacy and coordination between different agencies to create awareness about wildlife, and garner support of the general public in wildlife conservation, he said.

Emphasising on continuous training and creation of awareness on wildlife policy, John suggests collaboration between police, customs, forest, NGOs, public and other entities for effective investigation and effective implementation of acts and laws.

According to the 65th Wildlife Week Celebration 2020 report, a variety of different culture and land use practices of the diverse communities are observed in the hills and valleys of Manipur. The local communities, especially those residing in the hills and interior places of the state, are largely dependent on the available natural resources for their livelihood and their survival.

However, in recent years, rapid deforestation and over-exploitation of resources have resulted in habitat destruction. These jeopardising human activities have threatened the existence of many species and driven some towards extinction.

Hence, habitat fragmentation and degradation, overexploitation of natural resources, hunting, pollution and climate change impacts remain some of the major threats to wildlife conservation.

According to the report, hunting and poaching are important causes of the decreasing wild animal population. Hunting, which used to be a part of the cultural and traditional practice of the people in the hills for the survival of the inhabitants, has now become a commercial practice.

Although hunting in all forms is prohibited under Section 9 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, wild meat is sold in the open in some parts of the state, under the guise of tradition. Smuggling of wild animal articles has also become a lucrative proposition due to the high market demand. The consequent illegal wildlife trade is having a devastating effect on most wildlife species, the report observes.

Efforts of the Forest department and wildlife enthusiasts have led to reduction of hunting in several areas. However, it persists in some parts resulting in loss of wildlife, the report states.

According to the report, legally, no person shall hunt any wild species specified in Schedule I, II, III, IV and is punishable under law except as provided under section 11 and 12.

Schedule I is the most protected and IV the least. Species listed in Schedule III and IV are also protected, but the penalties are much lower.

Schedule V includes the animals which may be hunted. Hunting of any wild animal specified in Schedules I, II, III, and IV is punishable with imprisonment. It is not only the hunters and poachers who are liable for punishment under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 but also those who purchase and use such products.

Hunting, killing, poisoning, snaring, trapping, injuring, destroying or taking any part of the body of any such animal, or in the case of wild birds or reptiles, damaging the eggs of birds, reptiles shall be considered as offence and punishable by law under the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

Advertisement

A study by PhD scholar, Kh Hitler also stated that besides hunting for bush meat, another major activity which depletes wildlife is the illegal trade and commerce of wildlife articles.

The route between Imphal and Moreh, National Highway 39, is becoming one of the major routes for illegal trade activities, it states.

Wildlife items such as elephant tusks, rhino-horns, antlers, shell, aminal hides, bones musk pod, gall bladder of bear and other body parts of wild animals are highly in demand in Myanmar, Lao, China, Vietnam, etc  for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), for fabricating lucrative apparels for rich and high class peoples in these countries {e.g. apparel made from tiger skin, musk scent from musk pod of musk deer, article made from elephant tusk and shahtoosh shawl made from the fur of Tibetan wild antelope (Chiru) (Panthelops hodgsoni).

People settled around the sanctuary or National Park in forest areas are in great need of cash. A few hundred rupees are very dear to them and a middle man can easily convince them to do hunting, trapping and poisoning of wildlife in the nearby forest in return for a small amount of cash.

According to Wildlife Explorers Manipur secretary Elangbam Premjit, in his 20 years’ experience as wildlife photographer, most wildlife enthusiasts do not have experience of implementing the Wildlife Act or law in the state fully.

Premjit said he himself had handed over many wildlife hunters and even transporters but all were released on bail or before reaching the police station. No FIR has been registered as of now, only gacco takko news.

The wildlife expert shares his experience in hill districts where some young boys continue to indulge in hunting with the use of airguns.

In hill districts, hunting or poaching still exist, if anyone from the valley or outsider reaches the home of a resident in the hill, we will witness the house adorned with wild boar leather, feather of birds, horn of buffaloes, etc. They don’t take hunting or poaching as a crime. They hunt or poach for livelihood, or for self-consumption for their survival, he said.

Premjit also mentioned the state government's war on drugs campaign under which large areas of poppy cultivation in Ukhrul district and other parts of Manipur are destroyed. Deforestation for coffee cultivation is also taking place in the region, he pointed out.

Wildlife conservation does not mean to be protected only from illegal trading or hunting or poaching for conservation. Wildlife needs a place for survival. The forest areas should be preserved and protected, he said.

Awareness has been raised in valley districts to a certian extent, but it is still lacking in hill districts. There are Acts to preserve, conserve and protect wildlife and giving punishment to offenders, but whether the Act or law is actually implemented remains a moot question. he said.

“There is no complaint room for wildlife hunting. There is a need for establishment of a 24/7 complaint room,” he said.

Premjit also suggested launching of animal rescue ambulances in the state. The forest department can constitute Green Commando Team for wildlife to implement the Act or laws of wildlife protection, he added.

He further sought for a wildlife fast track court to reduce wildlife killing, saying offences of wildlife Act should be non-bailable.

The wildlife expert also suggests registration of simple airgun in the effort to stop the ah=ge old practice of hunting or launch Air-Gun Surrender Abhiyan, saying, “Hunting in hill districts has no purpose of livelihood for a young man who shoots birds with airguns as a fun game”.

Related Content:

Endangered Asian Giant Tortoise rescued in Tamenglong

Understanding Nongin for conservation and management actions

Hunting stopped, but Manipur State Bird Nongin faces extinction

Festival of Forest - towards greener life and more beautiful villages

Advertisement

First published:

Tags:

wildlife crimewildlife conservationwildlife actillegal wildlife tradewildlife traffickinghunting

Babie Shirin

Babie Shirin

IFP Reporter, IMPHAL, Manipur

Advertisement

Top Stories

Loading data...
Advertisement

IFP Exclusive

Loading data...
Advertisement

Feedback

Have a complaint, a suggestion or just some feedback about our content? Please write to onlineifp@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to address it.