Law enforcement is one of the biggest challenges in protecting big cats. The conviction rate for wildlife crimes, which is barely 5% across the country, throws light on the lacunae in investigation, documentation, and prosecution; and explains why law has little deterrence value when it comes to wildlife crime.
A major difficulty that forest staff face while filling a case is the lack of eyewitnesses and of the witnesses turning hostile. The need is for the forest department to use sound evidence collection processes and forensics to nail down poachers.
Even in cases where the forest departments are able to secure a conviction, for a first time convict in a case involving a Schedule I animal [tigers, lions and leopards are listed under Schedule I of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972], the quantum of punishment is only 3-7 years. Experts believe that increasing the quantum of punishment, coupled with improved understanding of the law among forest staff, can help reduce the number of crimes and improve conviction rates.
In honour of Wildlife Week, let’s renew our pledge to conserve India’s big cats in their natural habitats. For in doing so, we will have conserved all the wonderful life forms that call these forests, scrublands, grasslands and mangrove swamps home.