Monday, October 15, 2007

Authorities give clean chit to Whitaker

(Maneka Gandhi had accused Whitaker of exporting king cobra venom Permission for project on conservation of king cobra was withdrawn in April)

BANGALORE: Allegations of extraction and export of the venom of king cobras against noted herpetologist Romulus Whitaker, levelled by the former Union Minister and animal activist Maneka Gandhi, have been proved baseless in the inquiry conducted by the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Shimoga Wildlife Division.

According to reliable sources in the Forest Department, the officials did not find any prima-facie evidence to prove that Mr. Whitaker and his research group extracted venom in the Agumbe research station.

“Venom extraction and storage is a complex procedure that requires certain equipment. During the inquiry, officials did not find anything that could prove this,” the sources said.

Pending inquiry, the department had in April withdrawn permission for an ambitious project by Mr. Whitaker on the conservation of the king cobra in the rainforests of Agumbe in the Western Ghats.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) I.B. Srivastava told The Hindu that he had received a report in this regard from the DCF during the last week of August. “After studying the report, I have asked for some clarifications from the DCF, and a final decision on the issue will be taken shortly,” he added.

The report submitted by the DCF, it is learnt, suggests that Mr. Whitaker should be allowed to continue his research after being issued a warning.

Forest Department sources said that Mr. Whittaker and his associates had given live demonstrations of king cobras in a few educational institutions, for which the departmental permission had not been obtained. “He (Mr. Whitaker) has stated that the awareness programmes had been conducted following a request from the Range Forest Officer. But we feel that he should have sought permission from the higher authorities before he conducted those demonstrations,” sources said.

Founder of the Snake Park and Crocodile Bank in Chennai, Mr. Whitaker entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Karnataka Forest Department this year for setting the king cobra telemetry project.

The five-year research project on the largest venomous snake of India was initiated to study the king cobras’ unique nesting behaviour, breeding biology and conservation through telemetric tracking.

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