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Jayatri Nag says guerrilla activity and presence of forces in the forest-hills of West Bengal and Jharkhand have adversely affected wildlife, especially elephants and dogs
Posted On Monday, March 22, 2010 at 11:23:08 PM
The Dalma range, which covers an area of 192 sq km, with 55 square kilometres in the core area, is spread across Jharkhand and West Bengal.
The wildlife sanctuary has an undulating terrain with hillocks, plateaus, deep valleys and open fields. It offers a diverse habitat to wild animals like elephants, sloth bears, wild boars, barking deer, langurs, monkeys, giant squirrels, wild fowls, hyenas, mongoose, pea-fowls and snakes.
In the past one-year, the red rebels have had an adverse impact on forest animals of the region, especially elephants and dogs.
A recent incident created furore in Bankura in Bengal. On March 12, a herd of 80 elephants that had come down to West Midnapore from Dalma got trapped in South Bengal because its route was encroached upon by Maoists and police forces.
The elephants migrate from Jharkhand to Bengal every year. These animals have now taken cover in Borjora villages, a forested block on the Bankura-Burdwan border.
One morning, the herd ransacked potato and pumpkin fields at Morar, Kulupukur and Basudebpur villages. Fields of at least 100 farmers were destroyed and huts damaged, though no one was seriously injured.
A villager, Sukhoram Mahato said, “The Maoists have been wreaking havoc in our lives by making animals stray. Last year, my farmland was destroyed by elephants and this year the elephants are back.”
Santiram Mandi, another villager, said, “It takes long to get compensation from the government. Until then, what will we eat? All our crops have been destroyed. We cannot blame the animals because their habitat is lost due to the Maoists.”
District Forest Officer-Purulia Ajoy Das said, “Due to the increased Maoist activity, the elephants are straying into villages more frequently.
Moreover the animals are staying for longer periods. We paid about 35 lakh this year to the farmers compared to 20 lakh in the previous year.”
Forest officials, who are trying to get the animals back to their return route, feel that this year the animals may avoid their age-old route and stay in south Bengal, which would wreak havoc in these parts.
The environmentalists are worried because the herd has shown clear signs of distress. “The temperature in these region borders on 40 degrees Celsius.
This coupled with lack of food and the inability to return home is making them furious,” said V K Yadav, deputy chief wildlife warden (western circle).
“The path now followed by the elephants is dangerously close to human habitation and man-elephant conflicts are inevitable. Three people were killed in elephant attacks in 2009,” added Yadav.
Forest officials pointed to the danger of elephants getting killed by landmines.
Colonel S R Banerjee, former Director of Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said, “The guerrillas blast landmines, create ammunitions and pollute the natural environment inside the forest.
We are talking only about elephants. However, the Maoists may kill smaller animals for food.”
The forest officials cannot enter the forest for monitoring and surveys. Their work has been stalled due to increased Maoist activities and police operations.
“How can you expect the forest officials to enter the areas when it is affected by an insurgency?” said Banerjee, who is also the Eastern Regional Director (Hon), Wildlife Protection Society of India.
Maoists kill dogs
Maoists are reportedly poisoning dogs in Lalgarh in West Midnapore and some villages at Champaran and Jamui in Bihar.
Nikunj Sharma, senior campaign coordinator for NGO People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), India, said the Maoist leadership has “issued directives” to dog owners to poison dogs to death.
The canines roam in packs in the hinterland dotted with houses without boundaries and bark at the sight of armed rebels, drawing attention of security forces or waking up villagers.
PETA has recently appealed to Maoists to stop killing dogs. “Animals claim no nation, possess no weapons and hold no political aspirations. They are not a party to the Maoists’ battle.
Yet dogs are being killed in your area of influence. For the dogs, there is no Geneva Convention and no peace talks - they are dependent on your mercy,” said their appeal.
Forest reserves at stake
There is also concern that Operation Greenhunt will jeopardize the forest cover in the region. Forest personnel have been asked to work with the forces of Operation Greenhunt to prevent large-scale damage to the green cover and casualty to animals.
Maoists claim that their presence inside the forest has helped save the forest. The forest cover in 11 tribal districts of the state, including the Maoist affected areas, has increased by 24 sq km, according to a survey published by the Forest Survey of India (FSI).
The Maoists in an information bulletin published on January 22, 2010, have claimed that they have stopped illegal felling of trees and have also undertaken forestation in some areas.
This, they say, has increased the green cover. The communiqué said, “This (increase in forest cover) was due to the impact of the Naxalite movement on legal as well as illegal felling of trees that had been going on uninterrupted before the entry of the Naxalites to these areas.
In contrast, in areas outside the direct influence of the Naxalites, the forest cover has decreased.”
Maoists also claim that as the movement extends to other parts of the country, forests will be restored and expanded further.
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