Monday, January 18, 2010

Few foresters in Gir know wildlife nitty-gritty: study

Few foresters in Gir know wildlife nitty-gritty: study
Express India By Shubhalakshmi Shukla

Lion census is set to begin shortly at the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, and the state Forest Department may also take up GIS mapping this time. But in an irony of sorts, a recent training conducted by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has shown that only 16 per cent of the total staff manning the sanctuary actually knows the exact application of The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. About 490 Gir staff had attended the first-ever WTI training in Gujarat.

Rakesh Singh, WTI Coordinator, told The Sunday Express: "The training was conducted from December 9 to 25 and had two segments. In some cases, it was disappointing to know that the forest officials were not even aware of the application of The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Under this Act, every forest officer is empowered to arrest a person, detain vehicles and even seize property if he comes across any wildlife crime. However, not many forest guards and range forest officers were aware about this."

He added: "There were multiple choice questions in the post training session. Only 50 per cent of the total participants were able to identify the pug/hoof marks of antelopes, lions, sloth bear, chital, hyena, sambhar and black bucks."

WTI officials said most of the forest officers had already completed 30 years of service as beat guards and range officers.

"The Forest Department has been giving training to the frontline staff, but most of them failed to answer basic queries such as how crime investigation should be done," Singh said. He also did not rule out that a lack of understanding of wildlife could lead under-reporting of cases.

According to the WTI, nearly 25 per cent of the total staff undergoing training failed to identify wildlife crime; out of 490 staffers, 324 did not know what a protected area is, and only 16 per cent of the total staff knew what their powers are.

"Forest authorities told us that our training received a negative feedback, but the forest officials said otherwise," said WTI officials.

A Round Forest officer from Girnar Forest Range said: "I have been in this service for 30 years. The WTI training has been more effective, so much so that after the training we were able to identify 13 wildlife crimes."

Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) M M Sharma refused to comment on the matter.

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