Gaur translocation a feat or vested interest?
February 26, 2011 6:22:09 PM
The recent translocation of gaurs from Kanha to Bandhavgarh National Park may be termed as a unique initiative and a revolutionary step in the field of wildlife conservation, but the project has frequently hogged the headlines for all the wrong reasons. VIVEK TRIVEDI reports
The recent translocation of gaurs, commonly known as the 'Indian Bison', from Kanha to Bandhavgarh national park -- perhaps the one of its kind in the country -- could be termed as a unique initiative in the field of wildlife conservation. However, the project has frequently hit the headlines in the recent past for all the wrong reasons.
The Forest Department has termed the translocation of gaurs as a revolutionary step in the field of wildlife conservation, but wildlife activists have repeatedly raised eyebrows over the process by terming the exercise a project driven by 'vested interests' rather than a conservation effort.
As many as 19 gaurs have been translocated from Kanha to Bandhavgarh, in the process, which got underway on January 20 and faced considerable battering over the alleged assigning of coverage rights to a foreign based firm.
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) had finally accorded the permission for relocating gaur from Kanha in the year 2010. The project had to wait for three years before receiving a final nod from the Centre.
The gaur had gone extinct from Bandhavgarh national park during 1990s and the State Forest Department had devised proposal in cooperation with Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun and the Conservation Corporation of Africa in 2007 for shifting gaurs from Kanha to Bandhavgarh. Initially, the project had aimed at shifting 20 gaurs to Bandhavgarh.
The MoEF had assigned its initial permission in the year 2007. Three State IFS officers, one veterinary expert and one veterinary expert from WII were trained in South Africa for catching and transporting gaur. An enclosure was also prepared for keeping these animals in Bandhavgarh. South Africa had donated two vehicles, especially designed for the purpose. The Forest Department had procured the medicines and equipment to be used in the project from South Africa.
The translocation of the gaurs made the headlines right from the word go, as the volunteer organisation cried foul over the process in which the Forest Department assigned the task of coverage for the entire shifting operation to a foreign based firm '& Beyond', previously known as CC Africa.
Volunteer organisation secretary Udai Shehla Masood had dispatched a letter to MoEF, complaining that this was not the first incident where the Wildlife officers of Madhya Pradesh are caught flouting the wildlife norms. The Chief Wild Life Warden of MP HS Pabla / Director Bandhavgarh National Park have given permission of night filming, still photography and filming of the translocation of Bison to '& Beyond' in violation of norms, claimed Masood.
"The process of tendering is also doubtful, how come the friends and near ones of the HS Pabla always get the orders? Pabla's relationship with CC Africa and now '& Beyond' is well known to the whole world, but unfortunately not to the MP Government," alleged the volunteer in the letter.
She even claimed that she had the confirmation from the Forest office Bandhavgarh that no NOC has been given by the NTCA for the abovementioned activity, which is mandatory.
Besides, Masood has some other reservations about the process. She says the translocation of gaurs is going to be a major challenge since the stock being translocated is not familiar with the terrain. The Bison in India are local migratory species and the migration pattern is strongly ingrained in the genes. The only hope is that the population was once interconnected before habitat destruction took place.
"But the challenge will remain, the threat from foot and mouth disease, rinderpest is for real. Unless proper inoculation of livestock in the buffers takes place, the whole exercise will be futile. I strongly believe that the local extinction of this bovine was due disease. There is no palpable reason why the stock would migrate to another habitat leaving the present habitat which is well conserved," said Masood.
Echoing similar sentiments, the volunteer organisation Prayatna, also had accused the State Chief Wild Life Warden HS Pabla of handing videography rights of gaur translocation to a foreign-based firm. "The coverage rights have been assigned to '& Beyond', which was earlier known as CC Africa, in violation of norms, said Ajay Dubey, secretary Prayatna.
Dubey claimed that any foreign firm could not get engaged in revenue earning activity in India, without the permission from the Reserve Bank of India. He has also put question marks over the 'dubious' replies by wildlife wing of the Forest Department to his RTI queries on coverage rights by saying that first, the Public Information Officer at CWLW Office denied having the desired information with his office, but in the second attempt of seeking information, the officer has written to the Field Director Kanha for forwarding the desired information.
Later, the officer denied that the Kanha field director had any such information and only provided a copy of the e-mail, forwarded by '& Beyond' official, claimed Dubey. "In the e-mail, the foreign firm's official had declared & Beyond as a co-owner of the translocation footage in self-proclaimed manner," alleged Dubey.
The RTI activist further revealed that the foreign firm's official had referred to an e-mail forwarded by the CWLW and informed that the appellate authority of the Forest Department has issued orders for providing the copy of that e-mail on February 24.
However, rejecting all the accusations of corruption in the recently-concluded translocation, the State Forest Department top officials have termed the translocation as a revolutionary step in the field of wildlife conservation in the country, which according to them would be a milestone in the history of wildlife conservation and could be emulated to the conservation of other animals in the country.
Talking to The Pioneer, State Chief Wild Life Warden (CWLW) HS Pabla, described the recent translocation as a revolutionary step in the field of wildlife conservation.
Rejecting the controversy over the alleged violation of norms in assigning the coverage rights of the process to a foreign-based private firm, Pabla clarified that a private group Taj Safari had established four resorts in the State and he had urged the group to discharge its corporation social responsibility by helping in wildlife conservation.
"& Beyond, previously known as CC Africa is a partner in Taj Safari and the company had offered its expertise in translocating the herbivores on their own expense," claimed Pabla. On the issue of usage of coverage rights, Pabla said the Forest Department had agreed to make '& Beyond', a co-owner of the footage, as the firm had assured to use the footage only for in-house purposes only.
The CWLW claimed that no tenders were floated for the coverage as the foreign firm had agreed to contribute with the monetary help in the project and also assured that the footage would not be used for commercial purposes. The CWLW further revealed that the Forest Department is now planning to float tenders for using the coverage footage commercially.
Pabla denied accusation of having links with the Taj Safari officials through his any of the relatives. On the requirement for the NOC from the NTCA for the coverage, the CWLW affirmed that there is no such requirement and added that CWLW is the competent authority for the purpose.
On the query about the requirement of foreign experts in the gaur translocation, despite the fact that State Forest officials have successfully translocated tigers in the past, Pabla claimed that nabbing tigers is easier, but herbivores are different. "In the 1980s, the Forest Department had tried to translocate swamp deer (barahsingha) from Kanha, but the project had failed miserably in the want of the required expertise," added Pabla.
"So, we decided to seek cooperation from '& Beyond', which translocates thousands of animals every year," claimed Pabla.
Regarding the death of one gaur after it was tranquilised for translocation, on the inaugural day of the process on January 20, the CWLW said it was a sub-adult animal, and that the animal died after it faced suffocation, as the diet taken by the animal got wedged in his food pipe.
Pabla rejected accusations that any rules have been violated in the translocation of gaurs, and that the Rs 1.20 crore budget was sanctioned for the process. "This experience would be handy, while repeating the process with other animals," said Pabla, adding "There was no violation of norms in the translocation process and I am dragged into controversies unnecessarily," claimed the CWLW.
Link - Object reference not set to an instance of an object.