Among all the elephant conservation issues the issue of poaching, on a large or small scale will have a severe effect on elephant populations. If female elephants select males with larger tusks as an indication of good health, the poacher selects the same males for their wealth. Even on a small scale, the selective poaching of males, especially males with large tusks, will have a severe impact on elephant population viability. Understanding the problem of poaching is not that easy. It is about knowing the poachers, their age, number, location, strategies, availability of resources, and their skill to undertake undercover operations. It is also about knowing the numerical and structural changes in the elephant population, birth and death rates and the effect of poaching on the population numbers. The list becomes never ending. By the time the issue is understood in its entirety, with knowledge gained and effective stargies adopted, we would have ended up losing all our elephants.
This assignment was not part of any specific project with funds acquired for it, but developed while engaged in elephant / large mammal and their habitat related surveys or studies. This was an opportunity that presented itself while waiting for forest officials for meetings or discussions. Official records relating to elephant numbers/ deaths, causes were painstakingly noted down in field note-books during the period of waiting to meet officials. Later, while halting at rest houses or anti-poaching camps, the information on location of elephant death incidences, forest compartment/ range, elephant age and height, circumference of the leg, poacher’s name, age, village, etc., were culled out, and a pattern was found regarding frequency of occurrence , age and class of elephant deaths, names of poachers, their age class and group size. While traveling through the forests, starting time of entry and exit from the forest, every single observation of animal presence or their signs were noted down. Thanks to the Casio Triple Sensor Wrist Watch displaying time digitally, it even gave the details of altitude of the site or habitat type. On reaching anti-poaching camps located deep inside the forest, casual talks with watchers revealed information about their age, experience, salary, family status, animals seen, elephant deaths and their encounter with poachers (if any). This information was then transferred to the field note-book before going to bed.
The strength of volunteers is commendable, they traveled from Bangalore to Bandipur using their own money; initially they did not know the purpose of traveling to those villages located close to the forest, where poachers were reported or had been arrested. They enjoyed the scenery of the mountains, paddy fields, and houses; without any opinion or preconceived ideas, met the villagers at small tea-stalls or in public places or even arrack/toddy shops. In the evening at the rest-house or anti-poaching camps, the volunteers were made to recall their observations, what they had listened to, what they saw, and the sessions becoming never ending and stimulating. The next day, with some level of training or understanding about the problem, they continued their village visits, observed everything objectively, spoke to the villagers sensibly, extracted details of their socio-economic conditions, life style, facilities, wildlife and other aspects of the problem. After reaching Bangalore, identifying the value of the trip, they wrote about their observation; (see Appendix 9 for an example) and having gained a variety of local knowledge, the volunteers also translated news items carrying the details of elephants, deaths, poaching arrests, poachers’ names, age, locations of seizures of tusks and weapons.
Again, singly or with the group, trips were made by us to those villages, where the poachers were arrested or encountered. Including, damage to crop and properties, the intolerable problems caused by elephants and other wildlife to the people in these villages was visible; Sharing their concern for their property, sympathizing with their problems (on witnessing elephant pad mark or dung piles on crop lands) and when asked why they did not shoot these elephants, the villagers confided that they didn’t 2 shoot them but showed us the poachers houses who indirectly helped them to shoot the elephants that destroyed their life and properties. The poachers welcomed us, took us to the forest, demonstrated their skill of killing the elephants and the strategies they adopted to kill elephants or any other wildlife. The poachers also made sincere attempts to feed us wildlife meat showed the village market and exclusive houses where meat was sold, they even bargained price of meat for us and when the meat was not avalaible, they gave us a simple village lunch.
All this information directed us to see the problem scientifically or objectively and seeing the wealth of information, just extracted through the opportunistic sampling, GIS experts extended their help and developed maps related to the subject. The cameras sincerely documented the events and some photographs came by post. This accumulated, but carefully extracted detail on various aspects of elephants, poachers, villagers and other associated issues was responsible for this report. Effectively, not more then two weeks were spent to achieve this, considering the duration of the investigation, consistency or reliability of the truth of the same may be questioned, but this could act or motivate others to initiate investigations. While creating the document, it was felt that it should not go as just a research publication or as a popular or adventurous assignment but it should have a value to the end user. Initially, based on all these efforts, a draft document was created and dispatched or handed over to the experts, officials (see Appendix 10 for examples inputs and feedbacks) particularly range or/and divisional forests officers of Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and some other Forest Divisions adjoining the reserve.
Later, while going through some documents in a range office, signs of the draft document sent to them being used by forest officials were felt, the information that the department considered important was underlined by the staff who had been using the document. We were informed by the range officer who knew about the assignment that the report had given them the necessary information as to where and who to search for in case any wildlife crime occurred. We also understood that this investigation and the resulting document was a motivating factor for re-designing the structure and facilities of the antipoaching camps where watchers live and continue their daily assignments. The range officer felt the document may help them even after several years as regular visits of the villages and investigations of the current status of the people mentioned in the report would give an impression that they were being monitored.
Mason N McLary
|Publisher||Asian Elephant Research & Conservation Centre|
|Location of Publication||Bangalore, India|