Sunday, July 15, 2012

Flourishing Poaching and Trafficking of Odisha's Wildlife

“He welcomed me into his home, stooping to get past a low six foot threshold. We were to discuss guns, not animals, and so he had no hesitation in taking me into the animal room. There was little else I could call his drawing room. Four clouded leopards growled softly in two large cages by the front door. A few fishing cats and jungle cats lay sulkily in corner cages. Three large wire meshes held a pair of hoolocks, hooting softly in distress, their soft eyes seeking the visitor with unsaid plea. All around three kind of parakeets and a least a dozen other species of birds. A good thousand or so beings, crammed into wicker baskets  and mesh cages. The birds in the foreground were all Alexandrine parakeet chicks, two to three months in age. The lay linking pink beaks with each other, the soft red patches on their wings flashing in distress. The big man pulled up a chair in front of the show and beckoned me to sit down beside him. A pair of hill mynahs called out a name and a child served us cold water and then colder beer.
Where are the mynahs from? I was trying to be only casually interested.
These are from Assam but different ones come from Orissa as well.”

Excerpt from the chapter Mynah Talk, written in the book “On the Brink” by Vivek Menon. The setting is of a poaching kingpin’s house in Garo Hills of North East and revealing is done during Mr. Menon’s investigation of flourishing poaching and animal smuggling business. But what’s really startling is the presence of Hill Mynahs caught in Odisha in the Smuggler’s house miles away in North East. We all have read about poaching in Wildlife Sanctuaries as these are the only cases that come into focus and limelight. There are numerous such cases that happen every day hundreds of miles away from the protected areas which goes unnoticed and unheard. Hundreds of trees are axed every day and forests cleared.This write up is about those poaching and smuggling cases where many small animals and reptiles are made victims.

Asian Palm Civet stranded on the tree
As I was having dinner at my maternal uncle’s village a sudden noise of shouting children drew my attention. Leaving the dinner in between, I ran towards the backyard pond from where the noise was coming. Some Kelas (nomadic tribes involved in small time poaching of snakes, squirrels etc.) had gathered along with local village guys. Someone pointed towards the tree top where an Asian Palm Civet (salua patini) pair was huddled together in fear. Eyes twinkling on the flash of torch light, the cute looking innocent civets were bamboozled at the sight of gathered public and the uncontrolled noise. I asked the reason for all of them being there and why they were making noise. One of the guys whom I knew very well told that Kelas have come to catch the Civets. I lost my temper at hearing this and shouted at the gathered people and warned the Kelas of unpardonable consequence if they don’t leave the place within next minute. I was able to evade the situation because everyone knew me but same will not be the case where people don’t know me. While they were leaving I could hear some curses, murmurs and laugh. Someone passed a remark, “aji ta banchi gale.raha saala kali jibe kuade”.This  meant “ today they have got saved but who will save them tomorrow? ”. This is true. Every day so many of these creatures are hunted for paltry sum of Fifty rupees, for meat or for fun. The story is same for Snakes, Monitor Lizards (Godhi), Parakeets(Sua) ,Squirrels(Gunduchi Musa), Mynas(Sari), Shell Ducks(Chakua), Fishing Cats, Jungle Cats(Bhuan Biradi) etc.

Later on I came to know that Kelas are also experts of fixing wire snares. They do it to catch the Jungle Cats which is a favourite on Dinner menu after being offered to their deity. One such snare they had fixed few days back behind our bamboo plantation resulted in a Jackal (Siala) getting caught as a victim. Poor fellow was of no use to the Kelas. Thank god someone got spared. But I was wrong. Jackal was pelted stones by kids and all the grownups were having the laugh of the day at the profusely bleeding Jackal. Poor one had a sad end for no reason.

Squirrels are also on top of the list. Very easy to catch and readily available, squirrel skin serves as pouch for keeping money and marbles for kids. In the winters Rudy Shell Ducks (Chakua) are consumed in huge number whereas the Egrets are consumed throughout the year. But there are two things that are on the pinnacle, Snakes and Monitor Lizards. I remember as a kid I used to get scared seeing the flickering tongue of the Monitor Lizards that were abundant in our village. These days they are hard to find out. Not only Kelas but most of the tribal people place a very high value on the Monitor Lizards. Skin, fat and meat, nothing goes for waste. Skin is locally used to make musical instrument like Damru. As a kid every time I used to bother Suru, our Rice Mill operator about a bottle of red coloured Oil that he used to keep on his shelf and always his answer used to be that the oil is only for grownups. Many people like Suru still use the oil made out of fat of Monitor Lizard to increase their potency. Poor reptiles increasing the vitality of Human Beings so that more of these species can born and wipe off the innocent Lizards along with other animals from earth.

Another favourite pastime of Kelas has been catching of Sua or Alexandrine Parakeets which are present in quite a number along riverside grooves. They use a very simple but effective method to do so. On a long stick, some gum extracts of Banyan tree is put towards the edge. They would stand below the tree which is quite frequented by the birds. As soon as the birds would sit on the trees, up would go the stick loaded with the resins of Banyan and made to touch the feathers making them useless for flying. Catch made easy, birds are sold for not more than 50 rupees. Same fate the Saris also face in the villages situated along the fringes of Similipal or for that matter in and around other Sanctuaries (Eastern Ghats section of Odisha along with Southern part of Western Ghats houses Hill Myna) of Odisha. My wife tells me that in Sambalpur and Hirakud, Hill Mynas are common cage bird. Same is the case in Baripada as told by a Range officer.

Rescued Pangolin ( Bajra Kapta)
Pangolin being released back to its natural sorroundings
Recent disturbing developments has been smuggling of small animals, birds and snakes. Pangolin ( Bajra Kapta), Indian Hare ( Thekua), Peafowls (Mayura) etc. from nearby sanctuaries are transported to places like Kolkata and Jamshedpur and touts in small villages situated at considerable distance from sanctuaries act as helping hand by providing safe places for keeping them in captivity till the deal is finalised. This way the big fish involved in illicit business are not caught as frisking of the villages situated on the fringes of National Parks and Sanctuaries does not yield any fruitful result.  One such recent incident confirmed this new modus operandi. Some kids playing near an abandoned warehouse in my village Barundai (nearest sanctuary is Hadagarh about  30 kms away) shouted after seeing something sneezing and moving rapidly inside the locked room. Slowly crowd trickled in and surrounded the room to have a view of the animal that is not normally seen in the village. It was a Pangolin commonly known as Bajra Kapta. Sanctity prevailed in some heads as police was called in for help who in return called Forest Department officials.  Thankfully Pangolin was rescued from the hands of the smugglers and released in nearby forests of Sukinda. Perhaps caught from Hadagarh or from Satkosia range adjoining Similipal, It was on its way to Kolkata and from there to some foreign location. But every Pangolin is not that lucky. 

Many such snakes are trafficked daily out of the state
Every day so many Snakes are caught and also deported to markets of Kolkata where they are priced very high for their Skin or as showpieces in elitist’s homes. Some of the valued ones are Common Indian Krait(Chitti), Banded Krait (Rana), Bamboo Pit Viper ( Boda Sapa), Russel’s Viper (Chandan Boda), Monocled Cobra (Tampa), Speckled Cobra (Gokhar).The so called “useless” snakes like Rat Snakes (Dhamana), Keelbacks (Pani Dhanda) etc. are caught and consumed locally by the tribal people.

One of the last points that I would to touch upon before I finish this essay is on unabated tree felling. Most of the houses that are built in my village have Sal (Shorea Robusta) doors and windows which are got at damn cheap price from the local traders who bring in big logs of wood in cycles from the adjoining forests of Kendujhar across Baitarani and Salandi river basins. A short visit to the Anandpur-Thakurmunda area revealed that on ground there are not big Timber Mafias involved but rather numerous small time wood cutters who meet the local demands. This has been happening since ages. On cycle they cross Baitarani at various points and sell to people like us in villages and towns. This is just a small example. All across the state and at various places forests are being cleared. While in the first half of the essay, a lot of blame can be put on illiterate Kelas who do small time hunting out of habit, the demand for illegal priced wood is sheer result of unwanted hunger of comfort and style by literate city dwellers like us including conservationist, environmentalists and forest bureaucrats. Did I remind you of those exclamatory remarks, “Oh ki Saguan katha ra sundar furniture” made by guests visiting our houses? Most of the properties of Bhubaneswar are all fitted with wood illegally cut from the forests of Barbara in Khurda/ Ranapur area. Truckloads of fine Teak wood is cut and transported to Bhubaneswar. How much one can guard the forests against these people? Its only when the demand is cut short, supply will also fall down. But demand falling down is out of question with ever increasing Human population.
Southern boundary of Similpal/ Satkosia

Police action against Kelas or giving a suggestion that we should have mass enlightenment for reducing the usage of teak wood is an absurd idea.I honestly don’t have any idea on curbing this menace and leaves me more frustrated and in a rage of anger.