Those dwelling in the tricity and conscious about environmental concerns would be familiar with a historic wildlife conservation initiative. In October 2020, six captive-bred and critically-endangered vultures fitted with satellite transmitters were released to freedom from the Jatayu Breeding Center situated in the nearby Pinjore forests.
While vultures are the invaluable scavengers inhabiting the blue skies, turtles, tortoises, terrapins are their aquatic counterparts dwelling under blue waters and doing more than their bit to keep the waters clean. Vultures are conspicuous creatures, their role in disposing putrefying carcasses is known to all. On the other hand, neither is the scavenging role of turtles as renowned nor do these creatures captivate the human imagination as the charismatic birds do.
The parallels do not end here. Take for example the northern river terrapin (Baska Batagur), one of the most endangered of the freshwater turtles in the world. Reckoned as a widespread species till as recently as the early 1900s – just as vultures were eleven – no more than 20 adult terrapins may be surviving in the wilderness across the Sundarbans. The species declined due to its unsustainable collection of adults and eggs for food to the extent that the terrapins would be caught, tethered to a stake and a rope like a goat, kept in private ponds, and fattened to deliver eggs and ultimately meat for salivating human tongues.
In a conservation initiative that will bring cheer to the hearts of wildlife conservationists, Turtle Survival Alliance and the West Bengal forest department released into the Sundarbans 10 captive-bred terrapins. The terrapins were fitted with satellite transmitters on the top of their shells to provide daily data on terrapins’ movements. The data will guide conservation and repatriation measures for future re-wilding efforts to incrementally increase the number of terrapins in the wilderness, just as releases of captive vultures are aimed to offset vulture disappearance.
The truth must wail
A crusader for the rights of domesticated animals and wild creatures, Abhinav Srihan of the NGO, Fauna Police, has been left flabbergasted. Srihan meticulously collected from social media and other open sources as many 1,203 pictures and videos that show graphic, horrific, gut-wrenching acts of poaching of pangolins, jungle cats, mongooses, red jungle fowl, wild boars, leopard, porcupines, and partridges across Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu.
Specialized dog breeds, trained by poachers to exhibit a virulent level of viciousness, were set upon these hapless creatures. The tragic scenes of the wild creatures screaming in agony and terror when caught in the jaws of dogs were then captured by dog owners as cellphone videos and brazenly released on social media to boost profile popularity. In turn, dogs bored and bloodied in attacks by fierce boars with formidable tusks. Some videos and pictures shared by Srihan on his Facebook page of him to highlight the rampant poaching clearly reveal the perpetrators’ identity. Evidently, culprits entertained no fear of the law or of cyber sleuths advertised by governments in slick ads.
For a nation equipped with strict laws to curb poaching and specialized agencies at state and central levels, the official response to Srihan’s campaign comes as a rude jolt from officialdom’s ugly reality. “The videos put up by poachers go viral and have led to an increase in poaching. I have contacted authorities at all levels, but the response is negligible. The anti-poaching officers are experts at evading the issue. ‘Dil mein niyat nahin hai’ or they lack the will to take action in the face of such clear and disturbing evidence,” Srihan, who has received ugly threats from poachers, told this writer.