Though forest guards have been given the sanction to shoot poachers at sight by the state government, forest officials from various departments, especially in Pench and Tadoba, claim to be short of essential weapons and equipment to curb poaching.
According to forest department officials, even though the recent order by Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam might curb poaching to some extent, the department is in dire need of semi-automatic weapons.
The officials say that the .315 rifles which the guards have been allocated are more or less meant for self-protection rather than to stop tiger killers.
Sources in the department say that most of the junior officials and guards patrolling the forests in Tadoba, Pench or Melghat have been divested of necessary devices, including walkie-talkies, phones, vehicles and other basic amenities through which it would be feasible to communicate in time of need.
“The Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) is under threat from poachers and is unprotected, as most of the time patrolling is done without required firearms and motor vehicles. Our officials face the risk of encountering poachers who are more skilled and tech-savvy and utilise semi-automatic weapons,” said an official at TATR requesting anonymity.
According to wildlife expert Anish Andheria, beside weapons there’s a need to set up more anti-poaching camps and recruit more youth, while increase patrolling in the forests.
“The system to monitor the forest with GPS-enabled tracking devices is missing. However, the order might prove effective in the state just like the way it is in effect in Kazinranga in Assam where more than 200 rhinos and tigers are being protected,” Andheria said.
Chief conservator of forests, Chandrapur circle, B S K Reddy said that metal detectors are required to check underground metal traps laid out for tigers are not in proper working condition and the department is in need of sophisticated equipment.
“Whatever poaching is happening, it’s happening outside the protected areas. We hope the order might bring some change,” Reddy said.
The state forest department is also in the process of establishing rapid response units (RRU), which will be on the move round-the-clock in the forest. Also, the recently recruited 20 guards have increased patrolling staff to 54 from 34.
“The department is aware of the problems the guards face.
We have submitted a list of proposals and demands to the government and it is still under consideration,” principal chief conservator of forests, Nagpur, S W H Naqvi said, but refused to share further details.