Press Note: Wild Animal Massacre In West Bengal On World Environment Day
On June 5, 2016, as people across the globe celebrated World Environment Day (WED), West Bengal’s East Midnapore district witnessed a terrible wild animal massacre. Conservative estimates put the number of wild animals killed at 5,000. Ironically, the theme for this year’s WED was ‘zero tolerance for the illegal wildlife trade’.
Acting on a tip-off, a team from People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC) visited the district to take stock of the situation. It was found that hunting parties from villages and towns in the district had infiltrated the forests to celebrate Jyeshtha Amavasya or the night of the new moon. The hunting parties, in total comprising approximately 10,000 men had converged on railway stations along the Howrah-Kharagpur line after carrying out their hunts. They were armed with knives, axes, bows, arrows, and slingshots, and openly carried the ‘spoils’ of the hunt, including innumerable species listed under Schedule I of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972. The hunters were boarding trains and even cooking ‘bushmeat’ on the platforms in full view of railway authorities.
A brief summary of the events recorded on June 5, 2016:
* A three-member team from PUBLIC intercepted 50 poachers at Deulti, Bagnan, in Howrah district. Their weapons and bags were seized and the Forest Department was informed. Live animals including monitor lizards, orioles and squirrels were released, while the bodies of innumerable other birds were confiscated.
* With the cooperation of the Forest Department, the team intercepted five hunting parties at Panskura and Khirai in East Midnapore. The live animals, including monitor lizards, birds and rat snakes, were released.
* 15 hunters were stopped at the Khirai Rail Gate, and the remains of what appeared to be a jungle cat, a mongoose, and several birds were recovered from them.
* Informal discussions with some of the hunters revealed that while the meat of the animals would be consumed, the skins of species such as monitor lizards would be sold.
* The scene at Panskura station was one of utter mayhem. More than an estimated 2000 hunters had assembled on a single platform, and the area was littered with the bodies of live and dead wild animals. Some hunting parties were consuming alcohol, and skinning and cooking their quarry on the platform. Railway authorities turned a blind eye to these activities despite the repeated requests for help from the PUBLIC team and the accompanying members of the Forest Department.
* After the team made a complaint to the District Magistrate, a few policemen in plain clothes arrived at the scene. However, no arrests were made, no animals were seized and no warnings were given. The PUBLIC team, heavily outnumbered, had to ultimately leave the platform for fear of their safety.
Collusion of the Railway Authorities
This mass killing of protected wildlife, many of which were beaten to death and cooked on the railway platforms of East Midnapore, and their easy transport through the Indian Railways, highlights the incompetence of railway authorities. By law, the Railway Police are duty-bound to take action against criminal activities on railway premises, including any offences under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Instead of reporting and stopping the illegal activities, it appears that the railways turn a blind eye to the hunters, who openly display their catch on the platforms and transport live animals by rail. Meghna Banerjee, a member of the PUBLIC team that recorded these events, said, “On a day when the Eastern Railway ran press advertisements about World Environment Day, the Railway Protection Force stood and watched Bengal’s biodiversity being decimated. When our team was pleading with the hunters at the Panskura railway platform to hand over the live animals while getting harassed by the drunken mob, the railway police instead of helping us, accused us of creating trouble. When my teammate Suvrajyoti sought their assistance to rescue the captured animals displayed on the platform in front of the railway officials, RPF told us ‘this is not our job. We will take action only when the police orders us. Go to the thana (police station) and bring police order’.”
Hunting Festivals in West Bengal
Apart from this three-day hunting festival held in June that ran from the 3rd to the 6th of the month in East Midnapore, there are a number of other dates in the year where hunting parties enter the state’s forests and indiscriminately kill wildlife. Some important dates, as received from local contacts, are:
* April 18, 2016: On the occasion of Boishak, it is reported that 10,000 hunters entered the Joypur forests of Bankura district.
* April 30, 2016: It is reported that 12,000 hunters entered the forests of Sonamukhi in Bankura district.
* May 17, 2016: It is reported that 10,000 hunters entered the forests of Bagnan, Uluberia, Panchra and Shankrail, in the Howrah district.
* May 21, 2016: On the occasion of Budh Purnima, it is reported that 15,000 hunters entered the Ayodhya Hills of Purulia district.
Please note that these figures have been collected from local sources and have not been verified.
The District Magistrate and Forest Department have assured wildlife activists of their full cooperation to counter the problem of hunting in the East Midnapore district. In the past, extensive awareness drives and campaigns carried out in collaboration with wildlife enthusiasts and Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) against hunting have been successful elsewhere in India. If Railway Authorities choose to work in tandem with the Forest Department, in-roads can be made towards stopping the massacre and educating these hunters about the importance of biodiversity and the laws of the land. If urgent action is not taken to stop the massacre, West Bengal’s biodiverse forests will fall silent, with little to no wildlife.
List of species (dead or alive) recorded in the posession of the hunters:
* Bengal monitor lizard (Protected under Schedule I, Wild Life Protection Act, 1972)
* Water monitor lizard (Protected under Schedule I, Wild Life Protection Act, 1972)
* Yellow or golden monitor lizard (Protected under Schedule I, Wild Life Protection Act, 1972)
* Jungle cat
* Fishing cat (Protected under Schedule I, Wild Life Protection Act, 1972)
* Golden jackal
* Common palm civet
* Indian grey mongoose
* Rat snake
* Bronzeback tree snake
* Green vine snake
* Indian Pitta
* Bronze-winged Jacana
* Pheasant-tailed Jacana
* Scaly-breasted Munia
* White-rumped Munia
* Common Snipe
* Painted Snipe
* Painted Stork
* Green Pigeon
* Rose-ringed Parakeet
* Flame-backed Woodpecker
* Jungle Babbler
* Blue-throated Barbet
* White-throated Kingfisher
* Black-hooded Oriole
* Stork-billed Kingfisher
* Striated Grassbird
*Animals listed under Schedule I of India’s Wild Life Protection Act of 1972 are to be afforded the highest degree of protection by the Indian state.
“On a day when the Eastern Railway ran press advertisements about World Environment Day, the Railway Protection Force stood and watched Bengal’s biodiversity being decimated. When our team was pleading with the hunters at the Panskura railway platform to hand over the live animals while getting harassed by the drunken mob, the railway police instead of helping us, accused us of creating trouble. When my teammate Suvrajyoti sought their assistance to rescue the captured animals displayed on the platform in front of the railway officials, the RPF told us ‘this is not our job. We will take action only when the police orders us. Go to the thana (police station) and bring a police order’.”
– Meghna Banerjee, PUBLIC
"Traditionally, hunting was once an integral part of many Indian tribal cultures. However, given the scale of the East Midnapore wildlife massacre and the anthropogenic pressures already exerted on the forests of the country, it is no longer sustainable. Further, when hunting fuels the illegal wildlife trade and is done for the sake of commerce, it can no longer be justified by an argument of 'sustenance'. Hopefully human rights and social activist organisations and individuals will recognise this and help lead with corrective measures."
– Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia
“Traditional hunting, black magic and sports hunting of wildlife in India add pressure on several species, most hardly known to society. This is almost equivalent to the pressure caused by the illegal international trade. The worst aspect of this situation is that it is not even recognised as a major threat and is hence not part of any protection strategy.In fact there is no strategy at all that enforcement agencies have formulated in India to tackle such situations. Hunting takes away the best animals from the wild, those which carry the best genes for population growth.It is unfortunate to see that the Forest Department, Police and Railway authorities do not coordinate with each other to stop such dangerous activities despite many efforts to bring them onto a common platform through training and workshops. The West Bengal episode occurs in most other states in India at different times in the year. Such failures are a sign of a weak national policy on wildlife enforcement, poorer implementation, and a reflection of complete insensitivity to wildlife protection in India.”
– Shekhar Niraj, Head, TRAFFIC India
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PUBLIC is a voluntary, non-profit, non-political, citizen action group founded in 1990. Over the two decades of its existence, PUBLIC has become an important voice on environmental issues in West Bengal. PUBLIC has been actively working with government agencies, media, students and various other stakeholders to improve natural environment, protect biodiversity and promote sustainable living. Their methods include fact finding, advocacy, media communication, filing public interest litigations, ground level awareness programmes and direct action.
About Sanctuary Asia
Sanctuary Asia is India’s leading nature and conservation portal. Sanctuary aims to communicate to readers the rationale for wildlife conservation and environment protection with a focus on the Indian subcontinent. In the years since its inception, it has come to be at the fulcrum of innumerable wildlife conservation campaigns, and serves as a forum for wildlife groups, concerned individuals and non-profit organisations in the country. It is today India’s leading wildlife, conservation and environment magazine.
Source: Sanctuary Asia