By Ashutosh Mishra
Bhubaneswar: The joy of bird watching in Chilika, Asia’s largest brackish water lake that plays host to lakhs of winged guests coming from as far as Russia and Kazakhstan, has been tinged with concern for their safety. Poaching continues to be rampant in the lake area spread over three districts with more than 70 avian carcasses seized so far and 10 arrests made.
It is more than obvious that the anti-poaching camps set up by the Chilika wildlife division, which has also pressed into service mobile patrolling parties, have failed to deter the stalkers who make a killing during the bird season in the lake. Bird meat is high in demand and supplied to high end customers with deep pockets.
Sold in hotels and restaurants on the sly Chilika bird meat had reportedly once also appeared on the menu of a posh Bhubaneswar club patronized by the high and mighty. It is big business during the winter. No wonder poachers take big risks to catch and kill the birds.
Poachers use all kinds of weapons--guns to poison balls—to snuff life out of the unsuspecting birds roaming the marshes of Chilika or feeding on crops in the villages around the lake. Hunters lie in wait for the winged beauties in the crop-laden fields aware that the avians won’t be able to resist the temptation of gorging on the ripe grains.
Poison balls are silent killers and it is easy to spread them in the paddy fields. Many birds also get trapped in the nets of hunters who use bullets sparingly as they make a lot of noise. Wildlife officials are reported to have seized a gun and 500 live bullets. But bullets or poison balls, the latter known as traps in the poachers’ lingo, both kill with equal accuracy. While poachers in Chilika have been scripting one gory chapter after another forest officials appear to have done little more than making sporadic arrests and seizures. This is not going to end the menace of poaching in Chilika.
The department needs to change its approach and start treating poaching as more of a socio-economic than a law and order problem. The fact remains that most of the people making a living by killing birds come from economically weaker sections. For them it is a seasonal business that keeps their kitchen fires burning for a few months.
That being the case the forest department’s top priority should be offering the poachers alterantive means of livelihood while sensitizing them to the adverse impact of bird hunting on the environment. The department will be well advised to involve non-governmental organisations with necessary expertise in this endeavour.
To be honest, long back forest officials had made a half hearted attempt in this direction but they gave up as results were slow to come. But NGOs succeeded where the government failed. With sustained effort they were able to reform some veteran poachers who are now assisting the authorities in their drive against bird hunting in Chilika. Forest officials must learn from this and renew their efforts to wean poachers away from their gory trade.
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