Amid COVID-19 outbreak; Maharashtra sees rise in poaching and wildlife crimes

Mumbai: The coronavirus-induced lockdown and resultant economic distress have led to an unintended consequence--the rise in poaching and wildlife crimes for bushmeat and trade. Forest officials have arrested three people for hunting in the prohibited area of the Sahyadri tiger project and seized a rifle with live rounds of ammunition.

Ironically, COVID-19 is a disease with a zoonotic source. Zoonotic diseases are those transmitted from animals to humans.

Satyajit Gujar, the chief conservator of forests and field director of the Sahyadri tiger reserve, said forest guards on monsoon patrol duty had come across three men, Viru Mane, Pandurang Mane, and Baburao Mane, all from Satara, in the no-go area of the tiger reserve. The three were found in possession of a gun and two live rounds and were arrested under the relevant sections of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

The 1,165.56 sq km Sahyadri tiger reserve includes a 600.12 sq km core and 565.45 sq km buffer in Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur and Ratnagiri.

An official from the Kolhapur territorial forest circle, which abuts the tiger reserve, said wildlife related crimes had risen since the lockdown had been imposed. “In areas like Satara district, a large number of people are employed in the semi-formal and informal sector in cities like Mumbai and Pune. They returned to their villages after the lockdown. The resultant economic distress has led to these returnees and even locals finding it tough to make ends meet, leading to them taking to bushmeat hunting and trade. However, some do it just for thrills” he explained.

The official said that around 22 poaching related crimes had been recorded in the circle, which covers districts like Kolhapur, Satara, Sangli, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, since the lockdown was imposed. For instance, late last month, two people were arrested for hunting and eating a monitor lizard, which is called ghorpad in the local parlance.

The reptile is a species protected under Schedule I, part II of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, and its poaching is punishable with imprisonment and a fine. The accused were arrested after they made a video of the captured animal and uploaded it on social media.

However, regular patrolling by the forest department teams and the rise in the transmission of COVID-19 had led to curbs on people venturing into the forests for hunting.

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