The recent killing of 33 lesser flamingos in Gujarat's Little Rann of Kutch has once again highlighted the grim reality that wetlands, which are vital for the survival of wildlife, are being turned into graveyards by ruthless poachers. In the wake of the recent killings, wildlife activists and environmental organisations have questioned the state Forest Department's delay in granting these ecosystems the status of bird sanctuaries.
Killing fields: Poachers at Bhigwan near the city. Pic/Sunish Subramaniun
Birds for meat
Naturalists campaigning for flamingo protection have pointed out that not only the forest department has been inefficient in enforcing extra patrolling across the wetlands, but has also failed to keep a check on the possession of illegal firearms by locals, who have been using these to kill the birds. This, regardless of the fact that about three to four poaching cases have been reported from Bhigwan and Baramati in the past two years. Last year, activists had reported that due to growing tourism in the region, locals were slaughtering flamingos for meat.
Sunish Subramanian of Plants and Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), who had filed an RTI query to know the exact number of forest guards guarding the habitats of endangered bird species was left disappointed after he discovered that the department had no additional manpower, anti-poaching staff or a proper mobile squad to man the wetlands.
"Before issuing a sanctuary status, one has to ensure that the land is protected, fenced and is being manned by adequate number of forest guards. Unfortunately, the forest department is not in a position to do so," said Subramanian.
Ban on firearms
A need for ban on licences issued for possession of firearms, especially hunting rifles, has strengthened after incidents related to hunting of endangered bird species, including quails, sparrows and francolins were reported from all across the state. About two years ago, birdwatchers pictured two men, armed with rifles, shooting down four flamingos at Uran mudflats on the outskirts of Mumbai.
According to naturalist Shardul Barjikar of Sanctuary Asia, the government has given permission to villagers to keep hunting rifles for their protection and to drive away wild boars from their fields. However, these locals misuse use their weapons for poaching.
"The rifles are bought in the name of agriculture and a record of its usage needs to be submitted. But once the locals procure a gun, there is no one to keep a tab on them," said Barjikar.
Dilip Gujar, Deputy Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), said, "We have submitted a proposal to the Chief Conservator of Forest and it's in developing stage. By declaring wetlands as bird sanctuaries, we'll be able to protect the birds." Despite repeated attempts, Pravin Pardesi, Principal Secretary, Forest Department, remained unavailable for comment.