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In the natural world

Vivek Menon, a conservation biologist who set up the Wildlife Trust of India, has been advocating conservation of endangered species.


Vivek Menon

HE BELIEVES in conservation, is committed to the cause of wildlife protection and formed the Wildlife Trust of India. (WTI) whose His mission is "to initiate urgent action to prevent the destruction of India's wildlife." A recipient of the Rufford Award for International Conservation for his work on elephant conservation given by the royalty in the United Kingdom, Vivek is happy that the Asian elephant is centre stage because it is invariably the African elephant, which hogs the limelight. Vivek's naturalist bent of mind saw him set up Srishti (for Delhi's environment), and revived the Delhi Bird Watching Club. About the Wildlife Protection Act, Vivek said, "according to me, the Act is one of the best legislation we have in Asia. But this has not been enforced properly. Another question to think about is whether the proposed Biodiversity Bill and the Wildlife Protection Act will clash at times.""Lesser known things like butterflies and corals have been lumped en masse into one schedule following some old list. "In 1992, I was part of the seizure of 14,000 butterflies and moths from Himalayas. but nobody could prosecute them because nobody could pull out specimens and identify them according to sub-specific level. We needed to send them to the British Museum of Natural History to get them identified. These were highly rare and they should have been in schedule 1."

There is so much of wildlife outside parks and sanctuaries. It can be conserved by "involving the people around. . We need to concentrate on protecting those in a particular area network, and believe in the philosophy that man can live alongside". Vivek exhorts "you need to get together as many branches of civil society together and bring them to the cause - to do something to protect animals. We have 60 per cent of the elephant area, 85 per cent of the world's rhino - this is large mega fauna which we (Indians) have made space for somehow or the other. By and large the conservation ethic is there."

Vivek has been involved in curbing illicit trade for the last ten years ever since he started Traffic in WWF. "I have tried to curb illegal trade in ivory, tiger bones, butterflies and red corals in Andaman. The knowledge of enforcement agencies to this has increased over the last 10 years. When I started, there were customs officers who said they made a seizure of snake skins and gold and seized the gold and threw the snake skins into the Arabian Sea. Today, things have changed. People know. The nexus of mafia and the powers that be does not change. Our judiciary is getting more active but only at the Supreme Court or some High Court levels. We need to be active at the third class magistrate levels because that's where the wildlife cases first go." He emphasises the need for exemplary punishment at some stage.He argues for wildlife trade to be treated like a crime. . "Nobody thinks of it as a crime. Interpol calls it the second largest illegal occupation in the world. We have a dowry cell, why not have a bird-burning cell. Wildlife trade is an enforcement issue - awareness does not help. We need to build an intelligence to break the trade and it should be active at all times."

There is so much happening all around that we need to do fire fighting all around to conserve wildlife," says Vivek and that is the need of the hour.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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