Wildlife crime: A process of ecosystem breakdown

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Rahul Ashem
“The Sangai plays an important part in the life cycle of Keibul Lamjao National Park. It is the indicator of Keibul Lamjao ecosystem and the maintenance of biologically diverse wildlife communities”.

In the present scenario, wildlife crime is one of the important threats to wildlife community. The crime is done mostly for meat, trophies, traditional medicines, ornaments or sometimes as pets. The term wildlife crime denotes illegal hunting, trafficking of live or dead endangered animals and poaching. It also involves the violations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES), which regulates exports and imports of wildlife community. Sangai, the only dancing deer found in the floating National Park of Keibul Lamjao is an example of being threatened by illegal activities across the State. Apart from iconic species, other species like Hog deer, Wild boar, Common otter, Indian civet, migratory birds and other reptiles found in the park are also threatened by illegal exploitation and poaching. Therefore, it is the right time to encourage people as a basis for fighting wildlife crime and curbing illegal hunting of endangered species in the protected areas.

Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 deals with the protection and improvement of environment in order to safeguard the forests and wildlife community of the surrounding protected areas. The act extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland which have their own wildlife acts. The act consists of 60 Sections and VI Schedules which is divided into 8 Chapters according to their degree of protection. The act prohibits hunting of animals except with prior permission of authorized officer when the animal become dangerous to human life or property or is disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery. No person shall hunt any wild animal 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 shall be punishable with imprisonment.

The imprisonment for first time offenders is not less than 3 years (up to 7 years) and a fine of not less than Rs 10,000. For second offenders, the fine is not less than Rs 25,000 with the imprisonment remaining the same. It is not only the hunters and poachers who are liable for punishment under 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. National Green Tribunal is another protection act of protecting and conserving the wildlife society in this generation. It handles the expeditious disposal of the cases pertaining to environmental issues. It is a specialized body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues. The Tribunal is another important platform concerning environmental matters and its mandate, a much wider step than earlier environmental Courts and Authorities and other such courts.

Sangai forms the umbrella species of Keibul Lamjao nature ecosystem. It is a schedule I species protected under the Wildlife Protection Act and is critically endangered category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red data and appendix 1 of CITES. Hog deer or kharsa, a schedule III species of Cervidae family forms the indicator species in the same ecosystem. Both the herbivore species plays a crucial role in modifying the vegetative structure, nutrients modification and thereby changing the species composition not only in the plant kingdom but also in migratory birds, mammals and other small carnivores. It also maintains the ecological pyramid of food chain as a control mechanism for both herbivores and carnivores species. Therefore, survival of large herbivore species is an important part in conserving the natural environment.

The removal of large herbivores in an ecosystem can change the relative abundance of species throughout the food chain. It also leads to trophic cascade, an ecological phenomenon triggered by the addition or removal of top predators and involving reciprocal changes in the relative populations of predators and prey through a food chain which often results in dramatic changes in ecosystem structure and nutrient cycling. The absence of large mammals is a possible chance of increasing the insect’s population, insect’s predators, water availability, vegetation growth and a host of other ecosystem features in the surrounding environment.

As a result, competition among the species in terms of sunlight, nutrients and carbon dioxide in the ecosystem services occurred, the best will survive and adapt. The growth of vegetation is also one of the factors responsible for frequency and intensity of wildfires in the present generation. Infectious diseases are another thing with the rise of temperature. Today, the sign of degradation in ecosystem, habitat fragmentation and reckless felling of trees are creating problems in the surrounding environment. Deforestation and over grazing of cattle is done inside the protected areas and parks. Besides, the crisis of wildlife crime is a serious issue against the welfare of endangered animals.

Frequent collection of fuel wood by locals for cooking, heating and lighting, leads to degradation of the forest and constant interference disturbs the wildlife community. The loss of all tiger population in Sariska (Rajasthan) is one such example of ecosystem breakdown due to poaching and hunting. Wild animals are the living indicators of the characteristics of their environment. Because human depends on plants and animals for all the basic components of life, it is more than a matter of convenience that they continue to exist; it is a matter of life and death.

Wildlife crime is the second biggest illegal profession in the world after narcotics. The crime disturbs the ecosystem structure by affecting the abundance species of food chain. The removal of herbivore species from an ecosystem can have an impact on the relative abundance of forest diversity and other carnivore species within a guild.

Food chain system is an important part in balancing the predator and prey that tend to balance the whole ecosystem. The role of Sangai and its co exist located in Keibul Lamjao is contributing much to the economy in the State in terms of tourism sector as well as in preserving the wilderness and providing sustainable livelihoods to the people living inside the park area. The time has come to gather accurate information and document cases of wildlife crime in the state. Activities like studies on wildlife community, genetic variability, animal behavior, epidemiological surveys, and disease can be started with the related department. Combating wildlife crime is the only solution for saving the forest ecosystem, preservation of biodiversity, genetic and demographic variations of species for future generation.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])

Source:  The Sangai Express

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