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Visitors to the Harike Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary Monday witnessed brazen poaching of the Falcated Duck, a species listed as near-threatened by the IUCN, with a few of them even managing to photograph the poachers.
The tourists said the poachers dumped the carcasses of the birds and ran away when confronted . The carcasses have been identified as those of the female of the Falcated Duck (Anas falcata) species, whose population, as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is declining due to the drying up of water bodies.
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Ramandeep Singh, one of the visitors who photographed the poachers, said: “They threw some food for the ducks and suddenly the birds started dying. Their carcasses began floating in the water before two men entered and collected them unperturbed. It seemed routine for them. We tried stopping them but they ran away. Villagers nearby said the birds are poisoned here on a daily basis”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Tejdeep Kaur, Ornithologist and Principal Investigator, All India Network Project on Agricultural Ornithology, department of zoology, Punjab Agricultural University, said: “The Falcated Duck breeds in eastern Asia and nests near water bodies. It is not exactly migratory species in the Indian context as it does adapt to Indian wetlands and continues living here for long. But due to water bodies vanishing, its population is on the decline. Poaching it is completely illegal.”
District forest officer (DFO) and caretaker of the Harike sanctuary, Charanjit Singh, said it is ‘impossible to keep an eye on every person entering the wetlands’ as it encompasses a large area. “We try our best. Three gates are guarded 24×7 but it is open from other sides too. Staff of 35 people guard the sanctuary for 24 hours. But I will get it checked,” he said.
Dhirender Singh, chief wildlife warden of Punjab, said, “Best efforts are made to book poachers and catch them red-handed but the area is too large. It is still our responsibility to keep a check”.
Spread across 86 square km, the Harike Wetlands and Bird Sanctuary lies at the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej rivers and covers the border of Ferozepur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Kapurthala. It is recognised under the United Nations Development Programme and is a declared Ramsar site. (An international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands).