National / World

Shoot poachers on sight: Conservationist Jonathan Scott

By Somrita Ghosh 

New Delhi, Apr 26 (IANS): Noted conservationist Jonathan Scott, who presented the BBC's "Big Cat Diary" for 12 years from 1996 to 2008, has advocated shooting poachers at sight as they are one of the principal reasons for the diminishing population in the wild -- even as the world is moving towards the sixth great mass extinction of wildlife driven by man.

"In order to save wildlife, drastic measures have to be taken. Shoot-to-kill on sight is both a long- and short-term solution. We are running out of time to make any big change. I think it can be tried," Scott asserted in an interview to IANS.

"Poachers are often heavily armed and highly professional. They are often better trained and better armed than the police," he added, suggesting that drastic situations called for drastic solutions.

Scott, a zoologist, conservationist, wildlife photographer and documentary maker who is in India to promote his autobiography titled "The 'i' Cat Man" (Speaking Tiger/Rs 899/pp 368), also lamented that most of the poachers belonged to communities that lived below the povety line, while the big fish invariably got away.

"Most people who are doing the killing live below the poverty line. Big operators are protected by those who organise the trade in wildlife world," said Scott, who has made Kenya's Maasai Mara wildlife sanctuary his home, where he and his wife Angela have been living for the past 40 years.

According to a recently published WWF report, poaching, illegal logging and fishing in nearly 30 per cent of World Heritage sites are driving endangered species to the brink of extinction and putting the livelihoods of those dependent on them at risk.

Controversy over the "shoot-at-sight" orders followed a BBC documentary which showed the forest guards of Assam's Kaziranga in a different light.

In Kaziranga National Park, there were reports that 45 poachers were shot by the forest guards while 44 rhinos were killed between 2004 and 2005. In 2016, five poachers were shot dead while at least 15 rhinos were poached.

In February 2017, the acting director of the Corbett Tiger Reserve initiated an anti-poaching drive and issued shoot-at-sight orders to protect the big cat. The order, the acting director later told IANS, was actually a follow-up of an old government order.

National Geographic reported in October 2016 that about 500 Mozambican poachers were killled in South Africa's Kruger reserve from 2010 to 2015.

It was also essential to sensitise and involve local communities in wildlife conservation efforts, Scott, who has just turned 68, contended.

"The local community has to be involved and made aware in order to save the wildlife. They need to be empowered and informed of the benefits of living with wildlife. Also, government plays a major role. World leaders have to unite under one banner to bring about change," the conservationist said.

"We need to provide half of the earth to nature to sustain human life. But I don't think it is possible any more. The world is not wise enough to protect half of the world for nature.

"We are already moving towards the sixth great mass extinction driven by man. The speed at which species are becominging extinct has escalated and this is purely because of humans," Scott maintained.

"Man has already occupied most of the land in the world. Most of the wilderness and wild creatures are gone. In the last 50 years, we have lost 50 per cent of the total number of animals, birds, reptiles and fish," Scott bemoaned.

He also suggested that restricting tourism in wildlife reserves and sanctuaries is necessary.

"In countries like Kenya tourism is surely a medium of revenue but we need to limit the entries to national parks. To get the feel of wildlife creatures, television series and photographs can help to a great extent," he said.

Though born in London, Scott has mostly led an outdoor life away from his homeland and draws his inspiration from nature. It was during his early days when he watched the wildlife of Africa on television that he instantly fell in love with them.

Africa, for him, is still the last place reminiscent of the wonder of nature as it was before man came on Earth.

Though Scott cannot think of leaving Maasai Mara and staying in another part of the world, it is Antarctica apart from Africa that fascinates him to a great extent.

"Antarctica is beyond reality. Man's imprint is so shallow, it is barely touched by humanity. It is the most spiritual," Scott concluded.

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