|Chinkara heads uncovered at the Indian Army camp in Rajasthan.|
The blackbuck and the chinkara (Indian gazelle) are two of the most elegant and graceful antelopes native to the Indian subcontinent. Their proud and auspicious looks, not to mention their swift flying gaits have made them favorite subjects for wildlife photographers and filmmakers. However, these magnificent antelopes are also one of the most highly endangered animals in India. Since the Mughal era and the British Raj, they were hunted in countless numbers for the thrill of sport hunting. But as time progressed, conservation efforts began to revive their populations and saved them from being pushed to the brink of extinction. However, poaching has always remained a major threat to these antelopes and reports of such gruesome incidences continued to make the news. But none rang alarm bells across the nation more so than one which occurred in 1998 involving Bollywood's heartthrob Salman Khan. While filming for his film Hum Saath Saath Hain, he ran into major trouble for allegedly poaching these antelopes along with his co-stars. The incident shocked the entire nation, especially the Bishnoi community who are known for their tremendous love for nature. Seven years later, the late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi suffered a similar fate when he was arrested for killing a blackbuck. But now, there is a new figure that has become involved in this ongoing mayhem: the Indian Army.
The incident took place when five infantrymen, known as "jawans", hunted three chinkaras in Rajasthan's Barmer district while participating in the Sudarshan Shakti exercise on the Indo-Pakistani border. The alleged perpetrators were identified as Subedar Gopilal, Havildar (Sergeant) D.R Nath, Nayak N. Sarkar, Lance Nayak P.R Pardesi, and Sipahi D.R Naidu. According to P.R Bhadu, Territorial District Forest Officer (DFO), officials rushed down to the camp where the men were stationed after being informed by the local villagers. Upon hearing the officials' raiding the camp, all five soldiers escaped. At the camp, the officials uncovered some gruesome evidence: the severed heads of the gazelles and some uncooked meat. They also found an army vehicle covered in bloodstains used while hunting. It was seized for forensic examinations. As part of the investigation, defense spokesperson S.D Goswami stated that a court of inquiry was ordered to look into the matter. He further added that if the perpetrators were found guilty, they would be dealt with harshly. In addition to that, Rajpal Singh of the state committee for wildlife and environment indicated that villagers had been complaining for long that army officers were frequently hunting the wildlife but no action was being taken. But now, with substantial evidence, he stated that senior officers should look look into the matter and guarantee such incidents will not happen in the future.
Hearing about a news like this makes me feel that our motherland has been and still is a major hot-bed for poaching and other illicit activities intended to overexploit the natural environment. The threat of poaching comes in many forms. It is not just a bunch of small-time criminals, but also sophisticated ones as well, including those who have no affiliations with such syndicates whatsoever. This was seen especially in the case of Salman Khan, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, and now officials of the nation's army. But despite their high status, we must not forget that these are also regular people and should be dealt with in the same manner as any person after committing a crime. India is one of the few places in the world with one of the richest biodiversities, but poaching and illegal wildlife trade have always been taking the toll on these natural treasures that are part of the nation's heritage. The public really needs to step up in putting an end to these ongoing atrocities. Otherwise, the entire subcontinent will lose its natural beauty in a matter of time.
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