Saturday 20 February 2016 | 0

Forestwatch: in action in the field

Based in India, the mission of the anti-poaching team Forestwatch is to save bears and take out poaching and smuggling networks. In a few years its work has put an end to the ancient tradition of dancing bears. But they still have plenty more to do about widespread trafficking in endangered species.

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A strict law

In 2002 One Voice and Wildlife SOS set up an anti-poaching team to combat poaching of sloth bears for dancing, an ancient Kalandar gypsy tradition. A very tough Indian law dating from 1972 punishes poaching with heavy fines and prison sentences. Despite this, it quickly became clear that large numbers of bears are also captured to be used for bile or killed for meat for the south-east Asian market. All wild animal smuggling is closely linked and utilises the same networks. The remit of the team was thus quickly enlarged.

Infiltrating the networks

Working in close cooperation with government and local authorities, the anti-poaching team Forestwatch relies on research, often long-term, and a network of informants which they have recruited and trained. These are usually former poachers or reformed smugglers who know the territory well. To infiltrate networks, the team regularly pose as smugglers or potential buyers. When a network is taken down, it is the local authorities who make arrests and determine the fate of rescued cubs. Forestwatch requests whenever possible that cubs be entrusted to them. Several sanctuaries operated by Wildlife SOS, with the support of One Voice, allow them to ensure they have a happy and safe future.

Advising and training

Thanks to One Voice, the Forestwatch team has the use of all the high tech kit essential for their work (computers, mobile phones, PDA etc). As well as intelligence-based fieldwork, the anti-poaching team trains police, forestry workers and other technicians. Its biologists, investigators and informants analyse trafficking data and predict trends…

Taking down traffickers

The partnership between Indian government agencies and Forestwatch has resulted in effective combating of bear poaching and illegal trading in India. Tackling severe poverty, and setting up a retraining programme for Kalandar gypsies who agree to hand over their bears, have contributed to completely wiping out the tradition of dancing bears. Today the anti-poaching team, whose strength comes from its experienced network, carries on the fight against trafficking in endangered species, such as leopards poached for their pelts.

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In the subject

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The world according to the lions

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