The winter chill and snowfall in higher reaches push birds and wild animals to the lower and warmer areas.
With the annual migration of these animals to wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and forests, poachers and wildlife traders are on a rampage, hunting rare and endangered wildlife species that make them their easy targets.
Their prized hunt are pheasants including cheer, monal, jungle fowls and others and musk deers, ghorals, bears and leopards.
Though hunting is banned in Himachal, poaching remains rampant among local hunters, who kill wild species for meat delicacies and hides, while poachers shoot them down for wildlife trade that picks up pace during the winter months every year in the Himalayas from Churah in Chamba district to Churdhar in Chopal and Chanshal in Rohru and hills of Uttarakhand.
Wildlife crime wing a non-starter
The Wildlife Crime Control Wing (WLCCW) was set up in Shimla to check the illegal wildlife trade that threatens endangered and rare species such as snow leopard, pheasants, musk deer and bears. But the wing remains as good as non-existing, say wildlife conservationists.
The forest and police teams have only managed to catch an odd poacher or two in Chamba, Solan and Mandi over the years. But nothing substantial has been done to nab wildlife traders in the state, as the wildlife wing neither has staff, nor checks poaching in state.
A flourishing trade
Poaching is flourishing right under the nose of the wildlife wing.
People can be spotted hunting rare jungle fowls when they come for nesting sites in the evening, tweets BS Chauhan, a wildlife lover of Nawar valley, while tagging Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and Forest Minister Gobind Thakur. “We do not know whether anyone was caught or any poacher convicted in the state,” he expressed on social media.
“Poachers are on a hunt for pheasants, musk deer and other animals and birds in and around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries,” said Ranjiv Bharti, convener of the NGO that aims at protecting wild life and trout in Tirthan valley near the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP).
Though no one knows the exact dimension of the wildlife trade, experts suspect that snow leopards, monal and western tragopan remain a prized hunt for poachers and the banned wildlife trade runs in crores of rupees every year in the state.
Main exit routes
The main exit point for smugglers are border areas of Chamba and Pathankot, Leh-Ladakh, Tiuni-Vikasnagar in Uttarakhand, which is a gateway to the porous border of Nepal, the main trade centre for wildlife, revealed a wildlife expert requesting anonymity. Even meat delicacies are served in high-end resorts in Manali, beaches of Goa and Tamil Nadu and Kerala, he said. Bird and wildlife watchers hope they keep spotting cheer pheasant in Bandli wildlife sanctuary in Mandi district and western tragopan in the GHNP and snow leopard in the Pin Valley National Park. Cheer, snow leopard and musk deer have entered the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. These species are prized targets of the GHNP, Kullu and Pin Valley National Park, Spiti, and other wildlife sanctuaries in the state.
‘No to wildlife trade’
GHNP authorities burnt around 30 leopard hides, monal ‘kalgis’, antlers and other hides, ceased by the forest officials and police over the years on World Environment Day in 2015-16 saying ‘no to wildlife trade’.
“We burnt all wildlife materials ceased in the presence of villagers in GHNP and took a vow not to harm wild animals,” said BS Rana, a wildlife expert and former director, GHNP.
The wildlife wing has been spreading a strong message among the public that they would neither kill wild animals, nor spare traders and people supporting lifestyle that use leopard skins and hides, furs and masks and pheasant ‘kalgis’ as status symbols or decorations.
“We need to activate the WLCCW and set up CCTV cameras in key locations to nab poachers,” experts said, adding: “As per its mandate, the wing is attached to the national wildlife crime control wing of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF). Its aim is to check and investigate all wildlife crime cases in the state. Besides, the number of snow leopards has increased in Pin Valley as their sightings have been captured by cameras set up in the valley.” Experts from Sweden are called for radio collaring snow leopards to ascertain their exact number, they said.
Reward for those who nab poachers
The news of cheer pheasant, now found in abundance in Bandli Wildlife Reserve, notified in 1974, has come as a shot in the arm for environmentalists and bird watchers at a time, when residents in Sundernagar town are opposing a controversial cement plant being set up just 5 km away from this sanctuary.
Apart from conserving cheer, the sanctuary is home to the Himalayan Black Bear, Common Palm Civet, Barking Deer, Goral, Indian hare and Rhesus Macaque, but has become a free hunting ground for poachers and hunters, sources said.
Even the World Pheasant Association and Bird Conservation has been gaining support for protection of pheasants. Pheasants are killed for their beautiful hides and meat delicacy and need protection. Those who report should be rewarded if they catch a poacher, said bird watchers.
Pheasants including cheer, monal, jungle fowls etc. and musk deers, ghorals, bears and leopards are a prized hunt for paochers.
A resident on social media...
Jungle fowl is being ruthlessly #hunted in #himachal. Hunting happens mostly at night. Wonder if a single person has been booked by the wildlife staff. Who cares while this beautiful bird is being wiped out. #Shimla @WWFINDIA @jairamthakurbjp @B_K_AGARWAL