Sivasish Thakur

GUWAHATI, Jan 24: Two wild buffaloes that ‘had to be shot’ at two different places in quick succession, after the animals strayed into human habitations and attacked people, exposes the forest department’s lack of a quick response mechanism to deal with such wildlife emergencies.

This is despite there being laid-down protocols issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to facilitate timely action to rescue straying animals caught in conflict situations with humans. The National Board of Wildlife also recommends that state governments use Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code while dealing with wildlife emergencies.

Acknowledging the absence of a quick-response mechanism, a forest official wishing anonymity told The Assam Tribune that the failure to control agitated crowds apart, shortage of logistics such as tranquilizing equipment and ill-trained forest staff often hinders rescue attempts.

“Controlling large crowds baying for the animal’s blood is tough, and often, the required logistics is also not there. Sometimes, forest personnel lack the required training for such risky ventures. At times, the response from the administrative and police authorities for controlling unruly mobs is not adequate or timely,” he said.

In the latest incident at Biswanath (Sixth addition to the Kaziranga National Park) on January 14, the buffalo, which might have strayed out of the jungles due to the commotion caused by locals during a community fishing ahead of Magh Bihu, killed two persons before it ‘had’ to be shot dead. On January 12, too, another buffalo was shot dead at Samaguri-Rupahihat of Nagaon district under a similar situation.

Conservationists question the failure of the forest department in tranquilizing the traumatized animals and taking instead the easy recourse to ruthlessly put down the animals.

“Tranquilization should have been the natural option even if the animal had attacked humans, which is what a cornered animal is expected to do. Apparently, there was poor crowd control and the forest officials chose to play to the gallery to placate the agitated crowd, which also vandalized forest department property,” said Dr Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of conservation group Aaranyak.

One can also recall the incident on November 17, 2019, when a rogue bull elephant, which was captured in shocking breach of protocols, died, apparently due to an overdose of sedatives and rough handling post-capture.

Advocating a foolproof crowd control mechanism, Dr Talukdar said the forest department and the administration must work in tandem to deal with such emergencies.

“As crowds invariably gather in such situations, the police and the administration must address the law and order concerns and allow the forest staff to respond swiftly. Local village defence party (VDP) members should also be pressed into service. The media should also stop mongering fear and sensationalism through a distorted presentation of the conflict,” he said.

“We need to have a proper protocol to rescue wildlife in distress. A swift rescue operation will also minimize the chances of harm being caused to humans. We can follow the Central protocol guidelines or can come up with our own standard operating procedure (SOP) if necessary. But, the most crucial aspect is how it is executed on the ground,” another forest official said.

There have been many instances of mobs killing straying leopards across the State. “More often than not, it is the sheer perverse pleasure of killing a helpless wildlife that triggers such incidents,” he said.