Jungle Raj- 341 tigers, leopards and rhinos die, no one held accountable

Indian wildlife has never been under such a threat as it is now. The first nine months of this year has witnessed 69 tiger, 242 leopard and 30 rhino deaths, unprecedented in the past 15 years or so, for which data is available. Around 60 % of these deaths were related to poaching or man-animal conflict.

It is just tip of an iceberg in the country where the government does not have a mechanism to monitor most of its endangered species except tiger, rhinos and elephants. Primarily because the government’s concern of protecting the wildlife is lesser than allowing their home — forests – to get degraded through unsustainable economic growth targets.

It is not that the government is providing adequate funds the real issue is lack of accountability.

Tigers went missing in Sariska, Rajasthan, in 2004 but not even a single government functionary or official was penalized. Five years later, same happened in Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh but there was no accountability. In fact, the demand for holding a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into tigers gone missing from Panna has not been accepted by the Madhya Pradesh government and its CID inquiry has been an eye-wash.

And, there has been ample evidence to suggest that killing of tigers had taken place with the help of forest officials. Recently, a forest guard was arrested in connection of seizure of two tiger skins in Chindwara area of India’s tiger state Madhya Pradesh.

In a system, where the government officials are not held accountable, checking poaching of wildlife will remain a distant dream. Instead of taking responsibility, the foresters have been blaming ‘voice-less’ people living in and around wildlife areas for poaching, a shame.

To me, if there is continuous poaching of tiger or any other wildlife in a particular zone the highest level forest official should be held accountable and suspended, in addition to adverse remark in the official’s annual appraisal report. If the official is found guilty of dereliction of duty, a case should also be registered against him or her.

Before that, the government will have to ensure filling of all vacant patrolling and ground level posts and providing them modern weapons to combat highly internationalized poaching incidents. It can happen as the Planning Commission has given a ten-fold increase for wildlife protection, especially in tiger and elephant reserves. I hope that the money is utilized to protect wildlife in an outcome oriented accountability mechanism.

Modern protection is paramount as one can recall recent use of helicopters to kill rhinos in South Africa. So much so, that the government had to call Army to fight the might of poachers. Repeat may not happen in India but international wildlife traders would infuse sophisticated weaponry to target Indian wildlife, which is one of the most diverse in the world.

The deaths of tigers, rhinos and leopards in India this year should act as a wake-up call or else our future generations will seek exotic animals only in zoos or on television.

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