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Row over decision to allow capture of owlets in Melghat (Dec.)


Pioneer, New Delhi, Thursday 5th December 2013

Controversy has erupted over the decision of Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to allow capture of critically endangered forest owlets around Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Maharashtra for research project by Wildlife Research & Conservation Society (WRCS), Pune. Apart from figuring in the red list of IUCN, the bird also figures in Schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972.

According to experts, “Research related to breeding biology of this bird, diet, ranging pattern, distribution and unwanted detailed education/awareness will prove disastrous for this rare bird. However, some State forest officials besides the MoEF and NTCA gave permission for research work in the buffer zone. However, the research team wants to conduct research in the core areas as well.

According to sources in MoEF, that research project titled ‘Study of ecology, distribution and population of critically endangered forest owlet (Heteroglaux Blewitti) had been recommended in Melghat Tiger Reserve.

The team had earlier studied the bird in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh. The team had sought permission to capture 50 forest owlets using the services of expert trappers of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). The MoEF had allowed capture by non invasive method.

“There were differences right from the word go,” said the sources. While the Field Director of MTR had not supported the project, CCF (Territorial), Amravati had granted permission for research work in the buffer area. The NTCA too had approved the project in the buffer area and sought comments on exclusion of research in core area of MTR. The WRCS however wants to conduct studies in core area.

According to chief wildlife warden Sarjan Bhagat, “The technical committee has already rejected research in core area and there is no change in my stand, despite WRCS perusal.” He added MoEF has approved the project and now ball is in the NTCA court.

While there is a discrepancy in thought between the several agencies of forest department at rthe state and centre, the issue has however been taken up strongly by Kishore Rithe former member of National Board For Wildliffe, says the project should not be allowed even in buffer.

“A forest owlet doesn’t know what is buffer and what is core. Buffer has been created for tigers, not owlets. Already a lot of research has been done on owlets and people have obtained PhDs. Now what more they want to do,” he shot back.