How conversion sometimes aids conservation (India)


Seema Sharma,Times of India

Date Published
The Rai Sikh community living in the western circle forest areas of Uttarakhand have been drawn, in recent years, to the Radha Swami sect. Many of them have given up liquor and meat, and no longer engage in poaching wild animals. This has come has relief to the state forest department. 

Surinder Mehra, conservator of forests, western circle, said, “We have had several cases of poaching by members of the Rai Sikh community in the past. There were many arrests from the community too. We have all the data of the arrests made, but those have still to be compiled community-wise. So although we have no precise figures, we know that there were a large number of people from the community earlier engaged in poaching. Now, only about 20% of the community continues to engage in poaching. Their new religious beliefs incline them to give up liquor and meat, and much of the poaching this community earlier indulged in was for their own consumption. Members of the community were also earlier held for felling trees like sal, shisham and teak. One sal can fetch about Rs 1.5 lakh.” 

The members of this community have earlier been arrested in cases of poaching elephants and sambhar deer. The western circle is now considered a promising tiger habitat. Foresters, however, still have to worry about the southern borders of this circle, as it is contiguous with Pilibhit district in Uttar Pradesh; on the eastern side, the border is with Nepal – from both these sides, the wild animals continue to be vulnerable to organized poaching gangs. 

That the Rai Sikh were hand-in-glove with other poaching gangs emerged in 2004. Sources in the Wildlife Protection Society of India said in June that year, 28 kg ivory was recovered from a gang of four men at the Corbett Tiger Reserve. Besides ivory from three tusks, an elephant skull was recovered. As investigation proceeded, it emerged that one other elephant had been killed. In these cases, a Rai Sikh poacher was found guilty. 

“Rai Sikhs are no longer such a big threat. There is another gang, called the Bavaria gang, which is still active around the Corbett and Rajaji Tiger Reserves. Gujjars and other local communities also connive with poachers. The inter-state border of Terai west and east are vulnerable, being close to Pilibhit in UP and Nepal,” Mehra said. 

The ranges which fall in the vulnerable area are Jaulasal, Nandhaur, Danda and Sharda of Haldwani, Kosi and Kota of Ramnagar, Aampokhra and Jaspur of Terai west, Kilpura, Khatima and Surai of Terai east, which adjoin Nepal.