The Weak-kneed Wildlife Week

Last Updated: Oct 10, 2010, 17:53 PM IST

DN Singh

“Coexistence With The Elephants of Nature" was the caption on the booklet brought out by the Orissa wildlife department, on the eve of the Wildlife Week where the chief minister of the state along with a host of wildlife officials was seen indulging in a kind of self-admiration exercise in the high voltage media glare. The chief minister who is also the state’s forest minister, spoke about his government`s determination to protect all elements of the nature, with a diagnostic dexterity. Tiding over the cynicism of the media and other activists he virtually exuded a realization of the isolation and loneliness of the wild elephants and other species running around for existence in the fragmented forests under his dispensation.

A day before the occasion, the media, the local media in particular, ran stories about a letter from the Union Environment & Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh to the chief minister in which the former had expressed his strong displeasure over the state`s failure to arrest the frequent incidents of electrocution of the wild elephants. That the chief minister was put on the mat by the intent of the letter from Ramesh, was in fact the impression that seemed difficult to shake off at that juncture. But neither the CM nor any of his cronies lend any significance to the issue. It died down.

But sadly, there is no let up in the death spree of the elephants in the wild due to electrocution and poaching. Why only elephants? The entire wildlife in Orissa, as a whole, is in danger. A state that once used to boast of an enviable pool of flora and fauna has been allowed to slip into a kind of deterioration that it hardly can think of basking in the same glory again. Yet hope remains that the nature might restore itself.

The state provides shelter to 19 species of amphibians, 110 reptile species, 470 species of birds, 86 species of mammals, is a safe haven for the country’s largest migratory fowl concentration at the Chilika lake, and the Gahirmatha beach continues to be the world’s largest roockery for the Olive Ridley turtles. All this should not be allowed to get a premature burial in the hands of a minority who rule with a mindset that is so myopic.

There is, perhaps, no need of any extraordinary vision to trace the paths of the turbulent two decades the species in the wild have been subjected to. More on account of the rapid depletion of the forests, right from the Meghasan range to the extreme fringes of the Eastern Ghats. And there is hardly any grain of truth in the official claim that we have added over 100 sq kms of forest in the last few years. No amount of homilies can ever bridge the widening gaps gaping at us from the forests and the balding hills.

Mining today is a multilayered trade and the people involved in it, including politicians and executives, always suffer from a willingness to mask greed in the cloak of revenue for the state. It is one major sector that not only redefines the profiting expertise of the modern economy but, it has, in the last three decades, triggered a craving to belong to an affluent group that carries a certain status. Hence, it is natural that many of the ethics governing the philosophy of holism in development remain extremely marginalized and anyway, who cares for the poor animals or their habitats. Mining is, of course, one of the major factors behind the endemic depletion of forests without any compensatory step.

Activists across the state and even nature lovers are very unsparing in their criticism of the way the forest authorities maintain a sense of insularity towards the issues like sagging electric wires or mining in forest areas. Deaths do occur, either by the electrocution or by poachers’ bullet or for other reasons. A series of incidents of electrocution deaths were too frequent to believe and were so tragic that no amount of reasoning from the wildlife people could douse the fire in the public’s mind.

“The forest department whose constitutional mandate is to protect wildlife has developed misplaced priorities since it has turned into a contractor executing various works like NREGA, tourism projects, tribal livelihood projects, CAMPA funded plantations. Most CAMPA plantations are being set up after burning of undergrowth thereby destroying valuable ground dwelling wildlife like mongoose, monitor lizards, jungle fowl, quail, snakes, etc,” said Biswajit Mohanty, member of the National Board For Wildlife. “Even useful food species for elephants like siali creeper and kurei plants are being razed before putting up CAMPA plantations. Shockingly, public funds instead are being used to destroy wildlife and their habitat,” Mohanty rued.

In the last 10 years we have lost 155 elephants due to electrocution and over 230 elephants were killed by poachers in the last 19 years. Supposedly, the safest haven for elephants and tigers, the Simlipal National Park, was a witness to the poaching of 18 elephants within two months. And there was a ridiculous yet unsuccessful bid by the forest people themselves to wipe out the evidences! Moreover, once the home of about hundred tigers, Simlipal now has about 20 tigers only, according to a survey by the Wildlife Institute of Dehradun.

Our politicians -- those who have a matchless instinct for taking advantage, even of a breeze, to raise a political whirlwind -- could never wake up to such realities, which is no less than treason. They can gloss over and over on issues like Vedanta or POSCO with pedantic exactitude and undertake chopper sorties to far off places to arrange opinion-making meetings, and they can ferret out the most deviously ramified corruption in places such as in the mining sector but, offences like the murderous unleashing of plunders on the speechless animals are not only faced with a shameless equanimity but they manage to build up myths of their infallibility and invincibility through rhetoric.

“During the ongoing Wildlife Week celebrations, while the VIPs would be delivering lofty speeches in the plush auditoriums, poachers would be busy hunting endangered species in the jungles and the roar of the heavy mining machineries would be driving away the animals from their habitats,” said Biswajit Mohanty.

There are, as the wildlife department claims, 51 elephant squads comprising 204 persons, 98 elephant trackers, 49 protection squads, 26 anti-depredation squads, 21 tracker units besides scores of elephant inspectors and research fellows placed in different circles! What do they do? And what is the tune of expenditure on them. Yet the animals continue to die day in and day out.

Particularly, some gruesome incidents of elephant casualties in the last three months have definitely fuelled a revisionist reassessment of the real things the department is doing! The guardians of the forests who signify their loftiness of being unquestionable protectors of the animals now can not escape the radar of the public. They must share the truth.