By P. Soma Palan –
I refer to the Front page Headlined news report under the heading “Wildlife officials to be armed with AK47 Rifles”, which appeared in the Sunday Times of 2nd September. The Wildlife and Regional Development Minister, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka has envisaged to Order 2568 AK 47 Assault Rifles to arm the Wildlife Officers, in a warlike effort: (a) to protect Wildlife (Elephants) from Poachers and (b) to solve the “Elephant- Human conflict”.
Financial cost of the Project
The purchase of the said weapons would cost Rs.42 million of Public Funds, and an additional, Rs.500 million for the purchase of Cabs for use of the Wildlife Officers. Further, another additional unknown cost, for the expansion of the Human Resource capital of 6000 Wildlife cadre, as per the statement of the Deputy Minister for Wildlife, Palitha Theveraperuma. Our Political Rulers, whichever the Government in power, has the knack to create artificial needs for purchases and job expansion, for their self- gain and to fortify their electoral support base. More the purchases, greater the cost value, greater the cost value, more the personal benefits. More the job expansion, more the political outcomes. This is, on a mistaken belief that job-expansion is economic development. Multiplying people at work, through job creation, without expanding the productive capacity, diminishes only the level of productivity of those engaged in work. Artificial creation of jobs leads to artificial need for facilities such as more Cabs/vehicles for surveillance duties amounting to Rs.500 million. This is a vicious cycle, which is a characteristic of the Government Service. There is rarely any attempt to increase productivity of human resources at constant capacity.
Protection of Wildlife (Elephants) from Poachers
The Wildlife Rangers, Assistant Rangers and wildlife Guards no doubt, need a standard Gun for their self-defense, during their surveillance rounds in the wild, both against deadly wild animals and illegal armed poachers. This is understandable and a necessity. But, surely they are provided with this basic requirement, I believe, at present. However, do they need sophisticated automatic assault rifles of an AK47 kind, which is typically a military weapon? To be armed with such a lethal weapon, presupposes an intent to kill a human poacher or an animal. If it is the latter, then, it goes against the spirit of conservation of wild animals, which is really the rationale for setting up of a Wildlife Department, with the primary duty and responsibility to protect wildlife. A weapon is given to be used. If not, it is for mere display. Is not such a high powered and efficient automatic weapon goes beyond the purpose of a contingency, which is limited, few and far between? The threat to wildlife and/or to wildlife Rangers is not a military threat, deserving a military response. This amounts to an over-exaggeration of a non-existent need to be armed with an automatic assault rifle. The possibility of such deadly weapons infiltrating to the domain of the criminals, through devious means, would result in widespread crime and contractual murders.
It is difficult to fathom how the provision of AK 47 assault rifles would solve the Elephant/Human conflict. The only implied inference is that the armed Wildlife Rangers could protect the human settlers in the forest borderlands, by killing the Elephants on rampage. Doesn’t this defeat the very purpose of wildlife conservation, by destroying wildlife? Aren’t there other civil, non-militaristic solutions to the Elephant/Human conflict and illegal poaching? What is needed, is ingenuous methods and strategies to overcome this problem. The provision of Guns, irrespective of their efficiency, is not the answer. There should be workable and pragmatic preventive measures and persistent vigilance and continuous surveillance of the forests borderlands.
I am not an expert on Wildlife conservation. I have no knowledge of the ground reality or terrain of the Wildlife sanctuaries. However, I can offer some suggestions, which are only a mental conceptualization. I do not know whether it is feasible or practicable. It is left to those Authorities concerned to explore the possibility of their adoption.
1. Ensure that Wildlife is left alone in their forest domain, free from interference by humans.
2. Prevent human settlers encroaching into the natural domain of Wildlife, the forest cover. Felling forest trees and clearing the land for human settlements must be closely watched and monitored. There should be no compromise on this aspect. Those involved in illegal felling of trees for Timber trade, particularly by politicians either directly or indirectly, must be severely dealt with. Eternal vigilance and surveillance of the Wildlife Rangers is required.
3. There should be a corridor of no man’s land between the Forest borders and human settlements with a sizeable gap making it difficult for elephants to attack human settlements.
4. Instead of the an electric fence as it is now, the possibility of having an excavated ditch of about 10 feet depth on the borderline of the forest covers, should be explored. On the outer-side of the ditch, a strong wall should be built using granite boulders making it impenetrable and indestructible for elephants. At reasonable intervals openings with iron Gates can be made to allow accessibility to wildlife Rangers to enter the forest cover to discharge their duties. This will not only prevent elephants attacking human settlements but also make it impossible for poachers to enter the forests.