Insights into Editorial:The culling fields
18 June 2016
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recently permitted three States, Uttarakhand, Bihar, and Himachal Pradesh, to declare earlier protected wild animal species as “vermin” under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, thereby allowing private shooters and others to kill these species with few safeguards and no risk of prosecution. Similarly, two other states, Maharashtra and Telangana, issued orders.
- The species — nilgai antelope in Bihar and Maharashtra, the rhesus macaque in Himachal Pradesh, and wild pig in all States except Himachal Pradesh — were listed for culling because the animals, whose populations are allegedly increasing, damage crops.
Not many are happy with these decisions. These decisions raise questions about whether it is right to kill wildlife that damage crops. More pertinent is whether the problem has been framed and assessed correctly, and culling the appropriate solution in the first place.
Why wildlife species were listed for culling?
The government notes that over 500 people were killed by animals across India last year. Human injuries and deaths due to wildlife is a serious issue. Also, many standing crops were destroyed by animals. Hence, it has permitted culling of these animals.
Declaring animals as vermin:
Wildlife laws divide species into ‘schedules’ ranked from I to V. Schedule I members are the best protected, in theory, with severe punishments meted out to those who hunt them. Wild boars, nilgai and rhesus monkeys are Schedule II and III members — also protected, but can be hunted under specific conditions. Crows and fruit bat fall in Schedule 5, the vermin category.
- Section 11(1)a of the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) authorizes chief wildlife warden to permit hunting of any problem wild animal only if it cannot be captured, tranquillized or translocated.
- For wild animals in Schedule II, III or IV, chief wildlife warden or authorized officers can permit their hunting in a specified area if they have become dangerous to humans or property (including standing crops on any land).
- Section 62 of Act empowers Centre to declare wild animals other than Schedule I & II to be vermin for specified area and period.
Why culling is not a good idea?
- Removal through capture or killing may not prevent recurrence of conflicts and may even exacerbate them. Himachal Pradesh, for instance, killed hundreds of rhesus macaques in 2007 with conflicts recurring within two years, sterilised over 96,000 macaques since 2007 while conflicts continued to increase.
- Few recent studies show that a large proportion of man-animal conflicts are a result of accidental encounters with species such as elephants and bears.
- When animals are hunted, some will be shot several times causing tremendous pain, but many others escape with one gunshot or flesh wound, and die later slowly and in unimaginable agony from blood loss, gangrene, starvation or dehydration. When mother animals are killed, orphaned babies are left behind to starve.
- Provisions to allow wild animals to be killed can also be easily misused and contribute to the illegal wildlife trade. There is already a huge black market for nilgai body parts such as skin, teeth, nails and meat in Uttar Pradesh and wild boar are often used for meat.
- In parts of India, wildlife species such as wild pig, elephants, macaques, and nilgai occasionally damage crops or property. However, no reliable estimates of economic loss nationwide are available.
Following list of reasons that scientists’ offer show us why the animal isn’t the problem:
Habitat loss: Deforestation and lowered green cover in cities has been driving animals into crop fields and human dwellings in search of food.
Fall in predator population: Fall in population of predators such as tigers and leopards leads to a consequential rise in population of herbivores such as nilgai and deer.
Drought: If natural calamities such as drought affect human beings, so is the case with animals in the forest. Drought dries up availability of food for foraging driving wild animals into nearby crop fields and human dwellings in search of food.
Humans feeding animals: this is one of the major problems these days. Tourists often offer foods to animals roadside. This habit makes them chase tourists expecting the same from all tourists.
What are the alternatives available?
- Since human safety is the main concern, it is more appropriate to first adopt measures to reduce human injuries and fatalities due to wildlife. Effective measures for this include deploying animal early warning systems, providing timely public information on presence and movements of species such as elephants to local people to facilitate precautionary measures, and attending to health and safety needs that reduce the risk of wildlife encounters.
- Housing improvements and provision of amenities such as lighting, indoor toilets, and rural public bus services help reduce accidental human deaths.
- Improving livestock corrals can reduce livestock losses and carnivore incursion into villages, while better garbage disposal and avoiding deliberate or accidental feeding of animals reduces risks associated with wild animals like monkeys.
- Crop damage by wildlife may occur when animals enter crop fields because of habitat alteration and fragmentation, because crops are edible, or because the fields lie along movement routes to forest patches or water sources. For this, site-specific scientific information is needed which helps design targeted mitigation with participation of affected people. This includes supporting local communities to install — and, more important, maintain on a sustained basis — bio-fencing and power fencing around vulnerable areas.
- Crop insurance for wildlife damage, which the Environment Ministry recently recommended can be included in the National Crop/Agricultural Insurance Programme. An insurance approach recognises wildlife as a part of the shared countryside and as a risk to be offset rather than viewing wildlife as antagonists belonging to the State that one wishes away.
- Use modern technology such as mobile phones for SMS alerts, customised apps, automated wildlife detection and warning systems, and participatory measures for wildlife tracking and rapid response to monitor and reduce conflicts, save crops, property, and human lives may also be helpful.
- Solutions such as adequate fencing, noisemakers, and repelling animals naturally from farms through the use of chili plants or other such means can be tried. In Africa, for example, the planting of chili plants around crops was found to be successful in addressing conflict with elephants.
A better approach to conflict management requires integration of scientific evidence, ecology and behaviour of particular species, and landscape and socio-economic context. Without this, the response of State authorities, often based on political compulsions and public perception, even if legitimate, may end up being inappropriate and confused in relation to the problem.
Also, it is the duty of every Indian citizen under Article 51A (G) of our nation’s constitution to protect wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures. To save these animals, town and project planning must include forest protection, and solutions must be found to conflict by engaging with farmers, animal protection experts and scientists in implementing humane, real solutions.
Merely removing problem animals will not make problem locations disappear. Servicing human needs, enhancing local amenities, and adopting science-based and sustained interventions will provide more lasting solutions. A moratorium on culling will thus help redirect attention to where it is really needed and be in the best long-term interests of people and wildlife. India is already suffering from serious effects of climate change, including a warming climate, changing rainfall patterns, and droughts—all factors which hurt farmers first. Without healthy forests for our wildlife to live in, animals, and humans, suffer. It’s time to put down the guns and plant trees and work toward other effective solutions that help everyone involved instead.