Death Traps For Visitors

  • Shahnawaz Majid
  • Publish Date: Apr 23 2018 1:18AM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 23 2018 1:18AM
Death Traps For Visitors

Migratory birds are allegedly being rampantly poached in Kashmir.

 

Migratory birds that seasonally visit Kashmir’s wetlands are being rampantly hunted. Report say poachers are killing hundreds of teal, common pochard, merganser, northern shoveler, northern pintail, Eurasian wigeon, red-crested pochard, tufted duck, sheldrake duck,  mallard, coot, gadwall, Brahminy duck, cormorant, Greylag goose. These birds come to Kashmir during winter when freezing temperatures in their summer habitats in Central Asia and Russia make food scarce. They start arriving in October and stay until the end of April.

Their favourite haunts in Kashmir are Hokersar, Mirgund and Hygam in Baramulla district, Shallabugh in Ganderbal, and Chatlum, Kranchu and Minibugh in Pulwama. In addition, there are over 120 small and big water bodies across the valley, including the Dal, Mansbal and Wular lakes, that provide home to migratory birds during winter. The birds feed on insects, worms and fish.

Sources told Ink that poaching of migratory birds in and around many of these water bodies is rampant and the state wildlife officials act as mute spectators. It is alleged there’s a nexus between the poachers and wildlife officials. This could explain why notwithstanding a ban on poaching and the difficulty of carrying weapons in the strife-torn valley, poachers are having a field day hunting the winged visitors. They have especially made the Wular lake and surrounding marshes such as Rakhe-Shilwat and Sumbal in Bandipora a killing field, despite the fact authorities have imposed a ban on the use of guns in and around the lake.

People living near the lake alleged that hunters from villages such as Lankrishipora, Laherwalpora, Kulhama, Zoorimanz, Madvan, Kanibathi, Kehnusa, Saderkot Payeen, Zalwan, Banyari, Haritar and Hajin use special boats, guns and nets to hunt the birds in broad daylight and often within earshot of officials.

A few years ago, the government had imposed a ban on the use of guns in and around the Wular lake and directed everyone holding licensed guns in Bandipora district to deposit them in their respective police stations. “But even after licence holders deposit guns in police stations, they use unlicensed locally made guns and other hunting equipment,” local villagers alleged.

Even punt guns, a shotgun that can kill scores of birds with a single shot, are being rampantly used. The authorities recently recovered a few punt guns from near the Wular lake. “Measuring 10 feet to 12 feet, these are the longest and deadliest guns, capable of killing birds on a mass scale,” said an official of the Wular Conservation and Management Authority, asking not to be identified .

The easy availability of locally made punt guns is worrying. “These guns are the greatest threat for birds and no one knows where they are being made in the district,” the official said.

In Kashmir, bird hunting is a cognizable offence. Yet, it’s not unusual to see migratory birds being shot and sold in the valley. Near the Wular, scores of hunted birds are sold for meat almost every day.

Asked about this, Wildlife Warden for Wetlands Rauf Zargar said his department was taking all measure to save the birds from poaching. “Though the practice of bird hunting has ebbed over a period of time due to the department’s efforts, probable threats still exist,” he said. “In order to prevent such attempts, the wildlife department has placed squads to keep an eye on doubtful movement in the area. Poachers mainly strike during night time, but the rate isn’t alarming.” 

He maintained that “as far as bird reserves are concerned, there is no question of any poaching”. “The problem arises because the birds leave the reserves for nocturnal feeding to other unprotected water bodies and marshes. It is then that the poachers shoot them,” Rauf said. “Each year, we seize weapons of poachers and charge them with poaching under the Wildlife Protection Act.”

Rauf complained that the wildlife protection department is understaffed, making it difficult to cover unprotected water bodies and marshes. “We don’t have adequate workforce to make sure there is no poaching at all,” he said. “Even then, we are doing our best to check the menace.” 

The ornithologist Intesar Suhail warned that the unabated poaching of migratory birds could have serious consequences for Kashmir’s wildlife diversity. “Strong enforcement of laws under the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, 1978 should be ensured and long term measures taken to prevent poaching or illegal hunting activities,” he said.