Saving the tiger – crime prevention training for frontline staff in Central India
The International Fund for Animal Welfare provides training, equipment and insurance to rangers and forest staff who work on the frontlines of tiger protection in Central India. Jose Louies, head of this IFAW-WTI project, filed this report about training personnel in Pench National Park and Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh state. - JK
Pench (Madhya Pradesh), February 21, 2013: I am in Kharamajhiri, inside Pench National Park and Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. As I look around, I can’t help wonder how the scene would appear to someone if they were to cross our path at that moment – three miserable-looking people arguing along the river, a tiger trap on a blood-stained newspaper and a few snares scattered around.
I was amused at the thought of convincing the outsider that the trap was a dummy, the newspaper had been smeared with watercolour and no animals had been slaughtered and that the three gentlemen were ‘suspects’ detained by the investigation team during a mock exercise conducted during a Crime Prevention Training by the International Fund for Animal Welfare - Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI) under their Van Rakshak Project.
The arguments were real enough of course, with the members of the investigation team referring books and discussing what to do with their suspects, to ensure that their case does not come under the purview of the mock court later in the day.
It was not all fun and games, as the members got better acquainted with wildlife crime and more specifically, the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972.
This is our first batch of trainees from the Kharmajhiri range, led by Range Officer B P Tiwari. On the very first day we had a class-room session, where we discussed the various laws related to wildlife and talked about the tiger poaching gangs of central India.
Deciding to teach by example, we discussed an actual tiger poaching case with them to not only give them a realistic idea of what to expect out there, but to induct them into the world of tiger poaching and give them an idea as to what a tiger poacher will look for when his gang is out for a hunt.
When the Deputy Director of the park, Mr Jagdish Chandra, was asked what he thought of the programme, he said, “The training was an eye-opener for us. My staff had attended a few theoretical trainings earlier on wildlife crime, but when it came down to applying it practically, they could see themselves committing the usual mistakes and overlooking evidences which had been cleverly placed by the ‘poachers’.
It’s only through practical training sessions like these will they be able to effectively remember and apply what they learn.”
We had camped in Pench from February 10 to 18, with various aspects of training divided amongst the members. Field kits had been specially put together for the training which included a back pack, a rain suit, a winter jacket, a field cap, a water bottle and a flash light.
Each participant was given a kit.
During the training we also updated the IFAW-WTI insurance database, which exists to give each frontline staff a supplementary insurance coverage of up to Rs. 100,000 INR in case of injuries or accidental death on duty.
Started in 2000, this unique Group Accident Insurance Scheme now covers more than 19000 frontline staff across the country.
The final days of the training had been specifically designed to give the members an idea of what it would be like to fight an actual case.
The staff, divided into three batches, was present in a ‘court room’ where the investigation teams presented their case in front of the trainers and senior officers, who in turn acted as the defense for the ‘suspects’.
Every loophole and missing piece of evidence was immediately spotted by the trainers and good work - like impeccable paper work or following the ideal course of investigation - was rewarded with ‘gifts’, which in this case was a copy of Vivek Menon’s ‘Field Guide to Indian Mammals’ in their regional language.
The participants learnt valuable lessons on accuracy to ensure effective prosecution. “In our report, we wrote ‘pig’ (a domestic animal), instead of using the correct term ‘wild pig’.
Of course, we lost the case before we could even argue it,” said a member of the team, when they were asked to spell out their own mistake, after their ‘case’ was ‘dismissed’ within the first minute of presenting it.
“With the central Indian landscape being an important for tigers, with iconic tiger areas like Pench, Kanha, Tadoba etc., training, equipping and insuring the frontline staff goes a long way in motivating them to perform better,” commented Alok Kumar, Field Director, after observing the proceedings and the obvious immediate results.
We left Pench on the 18th, having trained three batches of over 200 frontline staff and the dates fixed for the next training dates, to be held in Kanha Tiger Reserve where over 400 frontline staff will receive training in multiple batches.
Although, we didn’t leave without seeing the animal we were here to protect.
We had a day off on February 13 and despite the fact that a heavy rainstorm the night before had led to fallen trees everywhere, blocking game roads, all of us were keen on going into the Tiger Reserve and spotting the big cat.
With a common story of ‘This is the land of Sherkhan’ (reference- a character from Rudyard Kipling’s famous ‘Jungle Book’) resonating amongst all, we went around the roads and couldn’t spot anything other than herds of spotted deer happily gorging on the fallen trees!
We were driving back dejectedly after striving to hear alarm calls, when someone saw a huge male tiger walking barely 30 feet in front of us.
Officially named as T8 (as we later learnt), this tiger was out for his morning walk. The tiger strolled out on to the road, sniffed the tree trunk to his pleasure, gave us a fleeting look and went on his way, with every step a swagger.
We couldn’t take our eyes away, as that minute felt paradoxically long and too short, and we watched him till the stripes merged with the bushes and we could see no more.
With no alarm calls of even a chital or langur anywhere, had we not come across this chap we would have easily missed watching him. Of course, as officer commented, Sherkhan probably paid us a courtesy visit to indicate he appreciates our good work around here.
South India; Project Lead
Enforcement, Assistance and Law
One of the most versatile members of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), Jose is also Officer-in-Charge of the Enforcement, Assistance and Law division. He specifically handles the wildlife trade control section that works with enforcement authorities to tackle wildlife poaching and trade across the country.
A graduate in computer sciences, Jose started his career in a multi-national company, working as a network techie.