Policing the forests: Reorganised mobile squads to help in detection of wildlife crimes in Karnataka

The state is also getting a new wildlife forensic laboratory at a cost of ₹2.7 crore in Madiwala by March this year.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Feb 13, 2023 | 5:20 PMUpdatedFeb 13, 2023 | 5:20 PM

Four people arrested with erotic ivory artefacts they brought from Rajasthan to sell in Bengaluru. (Supplied)

A Forest Mobile Squad (FMS) attached with the CID Forest Cell of Karnataka, which has jurisdiction over both Bengaluru City and Bengaluru Rural, recently busted poachers who were smuggling out Alexandrine parakeets (talking parakeets).

In two separate cases on 15 January and 4 February, a total of 24 parakeets were rescued and shifted to the Bannerghata Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BRRC).

The FMS officials apprehended four persons in total in these cases.

The two cases are among the 16 detected in a span of over a month’s time by the FMS attached to the CID Forest Cell, which has been reorganised by Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Sharath Chandra.

“Earlier, the CID Forest Cell had 11 FMSes covering 31 districts in the state, but now we have 18 of them. The Kodagu district has two FMSes, and the Bengaluru district has three. The first one takes care of both city and the rural; the second covers Ramanagar and Tumakuru, while the third one takes care of Chikkaballapura and Kolar/KGF forested areas,” Sharath Chandra told South First.

The modus operandi

Alexandrine Parakeets rescued

Rescued Alexandrine parakeets. (Supplied)

Wildlife poachers often engage tribal-community men in the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh to source Alexandrine parakeets.

Trading them online has made things even more convenient for poachers, sources in the CID Forest Cell told South First.

The tribal men know which trees the parakeets choose to build their nests, and target them during their breeding season, which lasts anytime from October to December.

Hundreds of days-old parakeets and hatchlings are snatched away from their nests.

If the birds are around a month old (20-30 days old), they would be healthy and could certainly make it to the market.

However, if the hatchlings that are less than 20 days old, they need to be cared for very well or they die.

These hatchlings are given baby food and nourished until they grow for a month, when they are deemed fit for transport.

The tribal men’s role ends after they hand over a carton-box consignment containing the agreed upon number of parakeets to wildlife smugglers, who pay them a promised sum.

From among 500 hatchlings brought down from trees, roughly 150 make it to the market — which is still largely profitable for poachers.

The consignment then finds its way to Chennai, from where the kingpins of the trade operate.

From Chennai, the parakeets are traded all over South India, CID Forest Cell sources told South First.

Also read: ₹15 lakh compensation for Karnataka woman killed in leopard attack

Bolstering the force 

Rescued Alexandrine Parakeets

More rescued Alexandrine parakeets. (Supplied)

This network is exactly what the FMSes are cracking down on.

Each FMS is headed by a sub-inspector-rank officer who commands four-five people at the constabulary rank.

They are provided with a vehicle and empowered to register cases, make arrests, and conduct investigations.

FMSes book two types of cases. The first are Forest Offences Cases (FOCs), which are mostly timber smuggling and disputes related to forest property, and are usually transferred to the Forest Department. The second are Wild Life Offence Reports (WLOR), which involve wildlife crimes.

Seized erotic ivory artefacts by FMS Bengaluru

The seized erotic ivory artefacts by FMS Bengaluru. (Supplied)

On 6 February, the Bengaluru FMS busted a racket that was trying to sell ivory artefacts in the city.

“These were erotic ivory artefacts that were brought to the city for sale. FMS Bengaluru apprehended four persons — three from Udaipur in Rajasthan and one from Ahmednagar in Maharashtra,” said Dayanand, a senior police officer with the CID Forest Cell.

“These four men procured the ivory artefacts in Rajasthan and found buyers in Bengaluru online,” he added.

The support yields results

Soon after the reorganisation of the FMSes, the CID Forest Cell witnessed a spurt in the detection of wildlife crimes not only in Bengaluru but also in other districts.

Tiger teeth and red sand boa were seized in Kollegal. Deer horns were seized in Kodagu, and leopard nails were seized in Mysuru. All these seizures were based on tip-offs the FMS squad received.

These wildlife articles and trophies find their way to cities like Bengaluru and Mysuru, where racketeers find buyers.

“In January 2023 alone, there were 86 cases booked in which 72 were Forest Office Cases and 14 were Wildlife Offence Reports,” Dayanand said.

Sources in the CID Forest Cell said there has been a lot of pangolin hunting in the forest belt from Tumakuru up until Dandeli.

Here too, the poachers engage the tribals, who use trained stray dogs to hunt pangolins.

Initially, the stray dogs are fed pangolin meat, which the dogs take a liking to. Then, they are trained to sniff pangolins in their burrows.

Once a stray dog confirms the presence of pangolins inside a burrow, the tribal men dig and kill it and then take off the scales.

Once a sufficient quantity of scales is collected, the men contact the poachers, who take it from them for a promised sum of money.

Also read: Crop destruction by wild boars a big problem for Karnataka farmers

New forensic lab in Karnataka soon

Earlier, when the FMSes used to seize wildlife meat, articles, or trophies, they had to send them all the way to the Wildlife Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Hyderabad or Dehradun for reports that needed to be produced in court.

However, the Karnataka government passed an order in August last year for the state to have its own Wildlife FSL in Madiwala by March.

“The new Wildlife FSL is being set up at a cost of ₹2.7 crore, and the department is procuring equipment for the facility,” said Sharath Chandra.

CID Forest Cell sources said that the new FSL would be equipped to conduct two kinds of analyses: DNA analysis, which reveals the origin of the carcasses with collected samples like hair, nail, teeth, and other material, and morphological analysis, which will help in the identification of animals, by its texture and other physical features.

“Earlier, there would be undue delays in trials of wildlife crimes in court due to reports from the FSLs in Hyderabad or Dehradun being awaited. The new wildlife FSL will be a game-changer for wildlife crime cases in Karnataka, as there would be speedy trials,” said Dayanand.

He added that the trial time for cases resulting in conviction would also be reduced.

“Almost all the cases pertaining to wildlife crimes result in convictions as there is solid evidence by way of seizures and FSL reports,” he explained.

Also read: Star tortoises connect Karnataka’s tribals hamlets to global smugglers