Guwahati, Feb. 9: The three kidnapped women WWF volunteers may have been released and raring to rejoin work, but the wildlife organisation is doing a rethink on its security policy, rattled by Sunday’s abduction.
“There has to be a complete rethink on our strategy — for better safety of the volunteers, co-ordination and other aspects,” Sejal Worah, programme director of WWF India, told The Telegraph.
This is the first time in the history of the WWF in India that its volunteers have been taken hostage.
Six members of a tiger census project were kidnapped by an armed group from Ultapani in Chirang last Sunday.
While the three women were released yesterday, the men are still captive.
Worah said work on the tiger census would continue and the volunteers have agreed to go ahead with the project, stressing that this job required very “high levels of commitment and dedication”.
“This incident, though unfortunate, has sho-wn wildlife volunteering to be a new kind of job for those who love to see a different kind of life,” another WWF official said.
The work at Ultapani was almost over and the group was supposed to move to Karbi Anglong and Arunachal Pradesh when the six were abducted.
A round of introspection revealed the security gaps that aided the crime.
First, there were hardly any forest guards around when the volunteers ventured deep into the forests of Ultapani. The volunteers were with activists of a local NGO working as guides.
Second, there was severe lack of co-ordination.
G.C. Basumatary, chief of forest department of the Bodoland Territorial Council, said a written permission was granted to WWF for its volunteers to begin the estimation in the forests, but claimed that the volunteers had no idea of the area where they were venturing into.
Haltugaon DFO R.N. Boro said the volunteers never came to see him before penetrating into the area which has been witnessing evictions.
“They should have at least seen me personally, as this area is not good and necessary arrangements could have been made,” Boro said.
The volunteers were proceeding from Kachugaon to Ultapani under Haltugaon division.
While the administration failed to provide them adequate protection, a section was out to find faults with the youths.
Bibhuti Lahkar, a grassland specialist with an NGO called Aaranyak, said a lot of homework needs to be done before going into the wilds.
The researcher who has worked in Manas said: “There has to be coordination with the authorities, one should have adequate knowledge of the area and keep a low profile.”
While researchers look for safer methods of work, experts fear that Sunday’s abduction would hit conservation activities in Manas, which lost much of its glory to militant depredation.
“This incident has no doubt hit the image of Manas badly,” Jimmy Borah, a wildlife activist, said.