Preventing forest offences: What we can do about it
Conservation of forests and wildlife is not what most commoners believe, like going on a jungle safari, capturing a wild animal through lenses and planting trees. Instead, it is often dull because of all the laws that one has to read and an element of risk that adds up.
A conservation campaign is never successful till it reaches the apex like courts, and very rarely one can find success at the administration level. One can at times get away by committing a forest crime because of many reasons; one primary reason is lack of media attention, and the other is bureaucratic complexities.
Forest crimes such as illegal trespassing might appear not so serious, but it is rather dangerous for people and wildlife. For example, in some forests of South India, night trekking and illegal coracle rides were rampant and are still happening in a few parts.
For any successful conservation campaign, tip-offs and timing are crucial. Having said this, the first step towards addressing the concern was to understand and study the nature of the offence.
More than 40 websites were operating fancy tours to the nearby places to Bengaluru like Savandurga, Antaragange, Makalidurga and even in Bandipur Tiger Reserve near Moyar river and such similar areas.
Many argue that what harm is it to walk in forests and enjoy the wilderness, but the fact of the matter is most of the wild animals use designated paths during the night, and it is called nocturnal animals. Predators like Leopards usually frequent at dusk to hunt their prey, and venturing in large numbers would severely disturb the habitat and the wild animals during the night.
The first step was to map the frequent places that these operators conducted tours. Before passing on any information to the concerned authority, one has to know the legal status of the forest, whether it comes under the purview of the Wildlife Act or any other state forests act. By the time we began to get to more about it, the menace of night treks was already deep-rooted. When we got sufficient information, we started to make calls to the tour operators to ask about the itineraries, and a decoy was set up to gain insight during the treks for documentation for further steps.
Simultaneously the excursions were conducted at multiple places all week, and then there would be differences in price during the weekdays, weekends and special occasions. There would be multiple pick up points for all the trek enthus from the city to the forest. The trek would begin by 10 PM in the night till morning 6 AM. A minimum of 40 people would venture into the woods.
The impact on the sensitive ecosystem would be horrific with all the campfire and music stuff, and at the end of the day, it was easy money for the operators and terrible for the forests and wildlife. We gave the officials a tip-off on the documentation of our decoy during one night trek, and the tour operators were booked under various statutes.
Immediately after the arrests, we contacted the media for extensive reach, which played a vital role in cracking this. As a result, the night treks were halted for a brief stint, but it is still is continued despite the crackdown.
Illegal coracle rides carrying people and vehicles are perilous, especially in rivers infested with crocodiles. It was the first time we heard such a thing of moving vehicles (two-wheelers, cycles etc.) and people in a tiny coracle, but it is a business for the localities who reside on the forest fringes. This was new and dangerous. There were many reasons attributed to this offence, the primary being to cut short the distance from point A to point B close to 100 km, access to hospitals and other needs, no other jobs for people who operated coracles, hunting of wild animals etc. The coracles exceeded their carrying capacity to multifold by fitting 3 to 4 two-wheelers and 4 to 5 people. Coracle rides were happening at 3 strategic locations inside forests, and to reach the coracle point in the river, one had to trespass the forests. The ride would begin by 6 AM or early and end by 7 PM with more than 3 operators and multiple round trips. We had to tip off the media on this with the proper study on the issue.
These two offences may seem insignificant and negligible, but these turn out to be dangerous in the long term when left unattended. Constitution has empowered every citizen its rights and duties likewise for the states. We have to ensure that science, data and law should back the issue we pick up.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.