The Wild West for Wildlife

Rafiqul Islam
Thursday, April 23rd, 2015
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Crime related to the country’s stock of wildlife is rampant

 

Wildlife crimes in the country are on the alarming rise as the authorities concerned are unable to ensure punishment to the offenders, what experts and officials attribute to the weakness of the existing Wildlife Protection Act.

 

Among the 251 cases registered by the Forest Department under the Wildlife Protection Act from March 12, 2007 to April 5, 2015, only 60 have been disposed of by handing down or imposing fines on the offenders, officials at the Forest Department said.

 

As 35 cases are still pending, 156 have been resolved with the offenders yet to be unidentified or with the offenders giving undertakings not to commit such wildlife crimes in the future.

 

The Forest Department officials said two tiger poachers faced one year’s imprisonment and a fine of Tk 50,000 each in a wildlife crime case in January this year, a very light punishment for crimes like killing a tiger. Majority of the offenders who face trial get minor punishment in these cases, they added.

 

On January 19, 2015, members of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) in a drive arrested three members of tiger poachers’ gang with skin of an adult tiger from Kalabagan area in the capital. A mobile court sentenced two of the poachers – Alam Prodhan and Abul Kahar – to one year imprisonment and fined Tk 50,000 each. Another was fined Tk 50,000.

 

However, section 36 of the Wildlife (Preservation & Security) Act, 2012 says that if anyone kills any tiger or elephant without obtaining any licence, he or she shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than two years and not exceeding seven years and also with a fine of at least Tk 1 lakh and not exceeding Tk 10 lakh. And in case of repetition of the same offence, the offender shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 years and with a fine of Tk not exceeding 15 lakh.

 

According to official data, at least 50 tigers were killed in the last 14 years (2001-present), but no one has been punished yet with the penalty the law allows.

 

Forest conservator (wildlife circle) Dr Tapan Kumar Dey said it is a reality that the offenders get minor punishment for committing wildlife crimes since all consider these crimes as minor offenses and the Wildlife (Preservation & Security) Act, 2012 is also too weak to book the offenders.

 

Official data shows that a total of 43 cases were registered in Khulna circle of the Forest Department over the last seven years. The offenders were convicted in only one case while 21 of these cases are still pending and the offenders in the rest of the instances were freed after they gave undertakings pledging not to commit such crime in the future.

 

In Dhaka circle, some 142 cases were filed during the same period. Of the cases, 31 have been disposed of while 2 cases are still pending.

 

Three cases were filed in Chittagong circle and all the cases remain pending. A total of 33 cases were registered in Rajshahi circle while 32 of these cases were resolved with light punishment and fine to the offenders while one is still pending. In Moulabibazar circle, seven cases were filed in last seven years and all the cases are running.

 

Data obtained from the Forest Department’s Wildlife Crime Control Unit reveal that a total of 64 cases were registered in connection with wildlife crimes in 2014. Thirty five of those cases have been disposed of by handing down or imposing various terms of imprisonment or fine on the offenders while the rest of the cases are under trial.

 

Wildlife conservation experts and activists observed that the existing wildlife conservation act is too weak and needs to be updated. The punishment should be increased for all kinds of cruelty against animals.

 

“There’s no proper enforcement of the law…the majority of the offenders are escaping on humanitarian ground as wildlife crimes like killing a bird or animal are considered as a minor offense,” said Wildteam chief executive Prof Dr Anwaul Islam.

 

According to the activists, the Forest Department needs to be strengthened with more well-paid staff.

 

Country Representative for IUCN Bangladesh Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmad said since the wildlife crime cases are being produced with poor evidences, most of the offenders escape from charges.

 

Apart from removing administrative weakness, he suggested strengthening the existing wildlife conservation act to stop wildlife crimes, including poaching, hunting and trading in the country.

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