Landscape challenge hinders probe into wildlife crimes in the Nilgiris

Trapping leopards with snares is one of the wildlife crimes in the Nilgiris.  

Over the last few years, the Gudalur forest division has emerged as one of the most difficult landscapes to manage in the Nilgiris in terms of preventing wildlife crimes, forest department officials say.

Since 2018, there have been multiple deaths of elephants caused by country-made explosives to the more recent use of improvised projectiles to cause injuries to a tusker and a leopard.

The officials claim that till date, the people responsible for these deaths are yet to be arrested, due to the unique challenges posed by the landscape that limits the scope of investigation.

Forest officials who have worked in the landscape told The Hindu that the Gudalur Forest Division posed serious challenges that were not seen anywhere else in the State. “In Gudalur, the landscape is such that boundaries between human settlements and forests are not well-defined. Moreover, wildlife presence outside the forests is also extremely high, meaning people have more interactions with wildlife,” said one of the officials.

Contiguous with Nilambur and Wayanad (both in Kerala), and used by elephants to make their way to the Mukurthi National Park from the Sigur plateau, the division is surrounded by districts that are known to be awash with both legal and illegal firearms, says a conservationist familiar with the landscape.

“The prevalence of legal firearms in the surrounding regions means that ammunition too is available freely, which invariably is sometimes used to hunt wildlife,” he says.

N. Mohanraj, a Nilgiris-based conservationist, says the Gudalur forest division requires more support from the government. “First, there needs to be stronger financial support for the division. More anti-poaching watcher camps and quick dispensation of compensation to farmers and livestock owners is required to prevent an antagonistic relationship between humans and wildlife,” he said.

Forest officials suspect that the motive for the shooting of the elephant and the leopard could be in retaliation to the problematic interactions, such as crop-raiding or cattle lifting.

If farmers and livestock owners can be assured that they will be compensated in a timely manner, they will not take matters into their own hands and retaliate, says another conservationist.

Another hurdle to the investigation is the difficulty in identifying the precise crime spot. “As both the forests and habitations are not well defined, an animal that was poisoned or injured in one location can move several kilometres away from the site where the offence occurred before dying. This makes it almost impossible to pinpoint the accused without collecting evidence,” says a forest official.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 9:30:05 PM |

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