Thursday, 3 May 2012

Poachers now prefer snares over firearms

It’s an old practice that seems to have made a comeback. The use of snares and traps to hunt wildlife had always been a conventional practice, one that had gradually given way to modern forms of poaching. But if numbers are anything to go by, these are emerging as a preferred form of catching wild animals in Karnataka. Over 80 traps and snares have been recovered or dismantled by the state forest department in Bandipur and Nagarhole national parks in the last three months.

The forest department has undertaken a major drive to tackle this menace by weeding out traps and snares from protected areas. Since the focus of anti-poaching drives usually is on well-equipped poachers, the simple yet deadly means are ignored. This move, says Jose Louies, programme manager with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), is a “‘significant poaching prevention plan, as the morning strollscarried out as part of this project also deters poachers.”

The forest department is being assisted in this endeavour by WTI, with support from the Care for the Wild International. The enforcement-related intelligence gathering is being done by a network of WTI informers. Voice for Wildlife, a Mysore-based group of lawyers, is also providing assistance to the state forest department.

There is no precise data available yet on the extent these snares and traps are used for wildlife hunting. The problem, says Louies, had always been there, but it is only now that the issue is coming to light. One of the possible reasons for this could be that poachers find usage of firearms to be an avoidable.

Sudheer K Shankar, lawyer and co-founder of Voice for Wildlife, says, “Earlier, snares and traps were primarily used for bushment (like pork). If an animal like a tiger or a leopard was caught, that would be a bonus. The trend, however, has changed considerably. In recent years, there have been many reports of big carnivores like tigers and leopards being caught by these devices.”

Snares, on the other hand, are both easy to make and hide (unlike a gun) and hard to detect as well. Snares/ traps do not require heavy investments either. One can install a snare and then keep on checking on it according to one’s convenience. The snare remains silent in the forest until an animal is trapped.
Those can remain undetected even by people passing by unless carefully looked for, or until an animal is trapped.

One of the reasons for this drive is that snares and traps are more dangerous than popularly perceived to be. They can both kill and amputate animals. Their usageis, of course, not peculiar to Karnataka - it is a problem across the country. Few people, however, are ostensibly worried since these are not “visible”. The Karnataka Forest Department is perhaps the first to realise the extent of this threat and has undertaken this initiative to mitigate the problem.

“I am glad that the threat is being taken seriously by the forest department. Instead of catching the culprits, this programme is a preventive practice,” says Shankar.

The modus operandi of the department includes strategically-planned walks to locate snares/traps placed by poachers. The details of the routes followed are kept secret. The “snare walks” are carried out by the Special Tiger Protection Force (a unit within forest department)members along with WTI staff, under the supervision of the park manager / director. Every snare recovered is GPS-tagged on a map and handed over to the range officer. 

Precise records are maintained.The process is not as easy as it sounds - anti-snare squads often have to crawl through animal trails to detect the contraptions. 

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