Over 120 human lives have been lost in the two waves of floods that have hit the State in the space of a month. Surging waters have inflicted damage to wildlife as well, particularly in Kaziranga tiol park and forested areas alongside Brahmaputra and other rivers. While the deaths of rhino and elephants hog most headlines, equally dismaying are large numbers of lesser wildlife perishing in the deluge. In Kaziranga alone, bodies of over 60 wild animals in the first wave of floods and nearly 90 animals in the second wave have been discovered. Asiatic buffalo, wild boar, pygmy hog, swamp deer, hog deer, sambar etc., are some of the smaller wildlife species in the park that have borne the brunt of flood fury, say foresters. The situation may turn critical for herbivorous animals soon if the park authority fails to tackle fodder shortage in the flood aftermath. With none of the promised 33 high grounds constructed in KNP before the rains this year, park animals as in earlier years had to negotiate the Brahmaputra to reach the North Bank or flee along the land route southwards to the Karbi Anglong hills. There have been media reports of animals run over by speeding vehicles in the tiol highway section skirting the park. It is also a matter of time before many of these animals fall prey to poachers lying in wait in the densely forested Karbi hills. While active throughout the year, this is the time poachers really look forward to make a lot of kills as hapless animals flee their flooded habitats. The reason is simple — poaching lesser wildlife species involve fewer risks than gunning down rhinos and tigers, but guarantee very handsome returns.
Threat to wildlife
There is great demand for live reptiles, birds and other members of lesser wildlife as well as their body parts in illegal markets in South East Asia. Tokay geckos, various skes, pangolins, owls and other ‘less glamorous’ animals fetch premium prices, warn wildlife experts and foresters. To feed this demand, well organised poaching syndicates are operating in Karbi hills and other parts of the State. In Karbi Anglong district particularly, there have been frequent allegations of poaching gangs getting a free run with the blessings of corrupt cops, along with an assortment of timber and sand mafias, gun runners, gold smugglers and militant outfits. They are armed to the teeth and have informers and collaborators among the local populace in Kaziranga and nearby Karbi settlements. Even if caught occasiolly, poachers are soon out on bail — so abysmal is the conviction rate. As for foresters, they remain two steps behind in this cat and mouse game, despite the government talking of reorganising and arming them with latest weaponry, gadgets and drones. But there is another trend spelling doom for lesser wildlife not just in Kaziranga and other tiol parks or wildlife reserves, but in forested swathes across the State. It is the growing craze for meat and body parts of such animals in many of our villages and towns. There are now large numbers of people swearing by ‘delicacies’ like the meat of civet cats, hogs and deer for exotic taste, or of monitor lizards, mongoose and pangolins for their supposedly pain-killing and medicil properties.
After the rains recede, local markets across the State sell such meat openly, supplied to traders by local gangs. With smaller wildlife too targeted by intertiol smuggling syndicates ready to fork out lakhs of rupees, the Assam government needs to have a policy in place to protect the State’s precious fau against these racketeers. But Dispur’s attention has remained primarily confined to tiger reserves in Kaziranga, Mas and meri tiol parks and safeguarding their rhinos, even though poachers keep notching up kills regularly. However, the protection mechanism in reserved and other forests in the State remains nearly non-existent, which wildlife activists repeatedly keep pointing out to no avail. While the country has devised a fairly comprehensive legal framework to ban the trade of over 1,800 wildlife and plant species as well as their derivatives, the implementation of laws like Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in Assam remains weak on the ground. To enforce the law strictly, Dispur therefore needs to muster the necessary will, give real teeth to forest protection forces, win over inhabitants on forest fringes, put in place a strong intelligence gathering network and improve surveillance, go hard after poachers and ensure their conviction in court. To preserve lesser fau is as important as protecting the big ticket species, if Assam is to retain its enviable bio-diversity.