The Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) that was caught off-guard with an increasing number of poachers and smugglers choosing the aerial route has swung into action. A dedicated wildlife cell has been set up at the Kempe Gowda International Airport (KIA) to detect forest and wildlife smuggling. The state government approved the idea of opening the 24X7 wildlife cell a couple of days ago. The cell has trained manpower and a specialised dog squad.
According to officials of KFD, the cell will be operational at KIA in a few weeks’ time. The new cell will safeguard the state forest resources from any external threat.
On the trail of poachers and smugglers active around KIA, the Bengaluru Rural wing of KFD conducted a day-long sensitisationprogramme on wildlife crime to officials of Customs department, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and other law enforcing agencies in October 2017. The programme seems to have done wonders for the department with custom officials becoming more vigilant about wildlife and forest crimes. Till now, the KFD has been alerted over 25-30 cases of attempted poaching and smuggling through KIA. In some cases, the culprits were sent to jail too.
SR Natesha, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bengaluru Rural, told BM the dedicated wildlife cell is the result of increased awareness on rising instances of wildlife crime. “The number of crime may not be alarming. But the fact that smugglers have opened up a new avenue via airport itself calls for a tough crackdown. Officials of KIA and security personnel have all been trained in detecting such crimes and they have been alerting us on almost an everyday basis,” Natesha said.
Ever since the sensitisationprogramme, the Bengaluru Rural Forest wing has received about 25-30 such alerts. “We are in touch with custom officials and alerts keep tricking into our network. Accordingly, our staffers have been taking culprits into custody for further interrogation. However, it is difficult for us to present at the airport every day. Hence, we thought of setting up a dedicated cell at the airport. Our proposal was approved by the PCCF (Wildlife) and other senior officials of the KFD,” the officer said.
Birds and amphibians are hot favourites
Assessing the incidents of smuggling till date, KFD officials have discovered that smugglers have set their eyes on amphibians and birds besides targeting some forest produce. “Among the birds, owls have been the predominant choice of poachers. In some cases, we rescued owls and the culprits were sent to jail. But owls are not the only species to be smuggled out. At times it is even difficult to detect some smugglers as they too have become smart with technology. Hence, we will have a trained dog squad to sniff the smugglers out. A separate recruitment will be made for cell and officers of Deputy RFO rank will be deployed all through the day in different shifts.”