Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Elephant Tusk: Bone of Contention

LOA Vol 36 - Issue - 02 - 15 Oct 2012
Elephant Tusk: Bone of Contention

By Zubair Ahmed

The tussle over the "tusks" seized by the police seems to have come to an end with the Divisional Forest Officer, Mayabunder Division stating in a press note that the contraband seized are not elephant tusks.
"A wildlife offence in respect of elephant tusk (as claimed by police) case has been detected by the Central Crime Station, Port Blair and was handed over to the Range Officer Mayabunder on Sept. 30 for taking further action. On the same day, the Range Officer, Mayabunder intimated about the seizure of property to the CJM Court Mayabunder. The Court registered a Criminal Case against the offence. Meanwhile, the samples seized were sent to Sr. Veterinary Officer, Webi, Mayabunder for its analysis. The Senior Veterinary Officer, Veterinary Hospital, Webi has reported that the sample produced is not ivory.  The sample appears as bone and not the tusk of an Elephant." The press note said.
As per the release, the case is under investigation and further necessary action will be taken as per the provision of the law.
Subsequent to the press note issued by the Andaman and Nicobar Police on seizure of elephant tusks worth Rs 1.70 crores and the detention of four persons of Diglipur, an implicit rift had developed with forest department unwilling to accept the police version unless a lab test is performed to certify whether the seized contraband is elephant tusk or not.
"As far as the preliminary report, we are convinced that it's not elephant tusk. However, to get a scientific opinion about it we have sent it to Wildlife Institute of India," said Shashi Kumar, PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden speaking to The Light of Andamans.
Divisional Forest Officer, Mayabunder Division had echoed same statement soon after the incident. He had told LoA that they are no experts and the seized materials needs to be sent for a lab test. However, unofficially many forest officials reiterated that the material did not look like elephant tusks but bones of some marine mammal.
The Police team, who seized the contraband, preliminarily went with the version of the detainees, who claimed it to be elephant tusk and also had a story to tell how they procured it. They even put a value of about Rs 4 lakhs per kg.
The press note issued by the police had said that the police party had recovered 3 pieces of elephant tusks measuring - 1st piece length -2.5 meter weight 21.800 Kg, 2nd piece length 1.5 meter weight -15.200 Kgs and 3rd piece length -86 cm weight 5.500 kg, total weight - 42.500 Kgs from the possession of four persons namely Mr. Probir Kumar Bala R/o Subashgram, Mrs. Seema Halder R/o Subashgram, Mr. Sanjay Gain R/o Laxmipur and Mr. Ratan Biswas R/o Radhanagar.
The issue became controversial when police published the value of the seized tusks to be around Rs 1.72 crores at Rs 4 lakhs per kg based on the disclosure of the detained persons. It is felt that the police department showed haste in declaring the seized material as elephant tusk and even went one step ahead and put a value to it.
"When an elephant with tusks is available for Rs 14-15 Lakhs, who will buy only tusks for Rs 1.7 crores?" asks a Range Officer.
The police team after formalities had handed over the recovered properties along with detained persons to Range Officer cum Assistant Wild Life Warden, Mayabunder Range on 30 Sept 2012 for further action.
"There are chances that the detection or seizure by the police might be wrong. It was the duty of the Forest Dept to further the investigation. How did the Forest Dept arrest the detained persons, if they were uncertain about the seized materials," asks a Police Officer.
"Why did the police hurriedly issue a press note without checking the facts?' countered a Forest official who doesn't want to be named.
The Forest Dept without any proper enquiry or investigation had arrested the persons and even presented them in court and two of them came out on bail, which once again brewed suspicion. It was widely alleged in the media as well as on discussion groups that Forest Dept is acting flippant and is showing slightest interest in the case.
It is also observed that the Forest Department could have out rightly denied that its not elephant tusk which could have embarrassed the Police Dept. To get away unscathed, it might have sent the contraband to Wildlife Institute of India.
One of the reasons why Forest Dept is on back foot is their dismal performance in detecting wildlife and forest crimes in the Islands. In majority of the cases, it is police department which detect the cases and hand it over to Forest Dept. Further, often the culprits are not apprehended by the Forest Dept. They just seize the materials.
A couple of months ago, a dinghie with two live deer and venison was seized at Wright Myo creek by the Forest Dept. The Dinghie has a registration number, but the Dept is yet to trace the culprits.
Now, Dept of E&F has constituted a wildlife protection squad in order to address wildlife & forests related offences under the overall In-charge of Ayyub Hassan, ACF (WL). The squad will be operational on 24 hrs basis and would liaise with concerned authorities for prompt action. There is no dearth of forest offences in the Islands with timber scarcely available from the Govt-run mills.
Elephant tusk or whale bone, the debate might still continue till the report from Wildlife Institute of India arrives. However, police is still not discounting the version they could manage to get from the detainees, who had told the police that an elephant was killed by them at Diglipur and the head taken to Landfall Island to decompose to get the tusk intact without any damage. And, a senior police officer accepted that it was premature to arrive at the figure of Rs 1.72 crores. "We do not want to go for a clash with the Forest Dept on this issue. Let the report come and things will become clear," he said.
Till then its field day for animal rights activists and journalists to raise a finger against those environmentalists, who proposes relocation or culling of the elephants from Interview Island, where the feral elephants have done extensive damage to the forest ecology. The debate now actively going on in various forums about introduced, invasive and feral species is yet to catch up with the Islanders.

No comments: