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Sentient Beings Or Shooting Targets?

Sentient Beings Or Shooting Targets?

Wildlife-human conflict is a major issue in rural India, with nilgai, wild boar, and even gaur being declared as vermin in various states. Nimesh Ved ponders whether the culling of ‘problem’ wild species is an effective solution.

Photo: Nimesh Ved.

A professor at North Eastern Hill University had once starkly put across how on the one hand the Meghalaya state government promotes the rich biodiversity of the Garo Hills, not only in the state but across the region, and on the other it actively pushes monocultures, including rubber, in the area. Monocultures that slowly strangle biodiversity. I was reminded of this last month on coming across orders passed by the Central and State governments that allow the culling of select wildlife species. This at a time when we are talking of curbing the loss of species to anthropogenic pressures, of landscape conservation based on structured information and reasoning, of banning dolphinariums, and of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change itself issuing advisories supporting non-invasive means to address human-wildlife conflict.

I read more on the topic and came across statements and decisions that could have been described as comical had they not been so distressing. Actions falling under this category include Madhya Pradesh changing the name of nilgai to ‘rojad’ to allow for its killing, and a senior forest department officer from Uttar Pradesh stating that hardly anyone eats wild boar in our country! The change in name of the nilgai is to do away with the guilt and taboo of killing a cow, though I wonder what came of the Latin name? As for the forest official’s statement? Well, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find places where the wild boar is not favoured meat.

These brought to mind lyricist and stage-comedian Varun Grover’s recent take on today’s society – “Actions around us are so strange and bizarre it is difficult to present them in more comical a fashion than the bare facts themselves”. Where the law prescribes due diligence on issues such as wildlife culling, the arbitrariness in practice is telling.

The orders state conditions to culling. These include taking video recordings of the carcass and sending them to the forest department, not killing pregnant females and juveniles, and taking permissions prior to each kill. How and why will these be followed and monitored is difficult to understand. More so given our pathetic record in following guidelines. How does the forest department prevent the killing of more animals than the prescribed limit? Or for that matter, the killing of other species? One comes across reports of electric wires used in Telangana, and bombs put to use in Uttarakhand to kill ‘problem’ animals. These ‘effective’ measures neither differentiate between species declared vermin and those that are protected, nor are they legal. Today, as we disregard taboos and beliefs, more and more people are open to consuming wild meat. How then can we ensure that these orders will not lead to hunting and trade for the plate? There’s also the chance that the meat of one species will be sold as that of another. In Manas, Assam, it was found that wild buffalo meat was being sold as venison, as the latter was priced higher.

Photo: Gaurav Shirodkar.

Newspapers point to hunters being invited to shoot animals and being paid for their efforts by the forest department. Why do we need someone to go from Hyderabad, Telangana to shoot wild boar in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh; a district with one of the highest number of gun licenses in the country? Equally difficult to comprehend is the Telangana Order that lists the names and contact details of the people short-listed to hunt, but mentions neither the maximum number of animals to be hunted nor the specific areas where they can be hunted from. It’s hard to believe that wildlife-human conflict is equally distributed across the state. If this isn’t enough, the order does not even exclude forest areas from its purview. Incidentally, the names on the list include members of the National Rifles Association of India and ex-members of the Indians for Guns forum! The order appears to be more for the hunter than the farmer, remarked a friend.

The Forest Minister of Goa included our national bird, the peacock, and our largest bovine, the gaur, in the list of species to be culled. He backtracked after giving us some anxious days. One wonders where we will stop though! If we look at Rajasthan, we have pockets where cultivators are in conflict with blackbuck, chinkara and even cattle whose owners have left them to fend for themselves.  Will we question our lifestyles, changing land use patterns, decreasing common lands, fall in carnivore numbers, increasing encroachment on forest lands, or take up the gun to avoid even thinking about the uncomfortable answers to these questions. Answers that will impact our tomorrow.

During a wildlife conservation meet at Dehradun in 2007, Dr. Allan Rodgers, who played a pivotal role in planning and documenting the protected area network in India, had pointed to a gap in tiger conservation in the country. He had remarked on the lack of understanding of the ecology of the chital, the tiger’s principle prey in most landscapes. It may augur well today to garner more understanding of wild boar and nilgai ecology before passing blanket orders than may well leave both farmers and ‘vermin’ wildlife in the lurch.

Nimesh loves history, long walks and exploring wildlife conservation. He blogs at https://nimesh-ved.blogspot.in/

Source: First appeared in:Sanctuary Asia.


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