Wildlife & Biodiversity

COVID-19: How wildlife hunting increased in Tamil Nadu amid lockdown

Less availability of meat, long-term unemployment increased instances of hunting in Tamil Nadu

By R Sathishkumar, Rajan
Published: Wednesday 10 June 2020

Wildlife hunters — seizing the opportunity provided by the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) — have targeted animals in Tamil Nadu’s biodiversity-rich areas.

The state has a lot of biodiversity: From deciduous forests to the Western Ghats that are home to rare animals and plants.

Restricted movement of transport and human activities did have some positive environmental impacts.

A rare civet cat was found on the roads in Kerala’s Kozhikode. Similarly, the Himalayas could be seen from Punjab’s Jalandhar, almost 230 kilometres away: A rare sight witnessed after four decades due to reduced pollution.

Water from the polluted Ganga was reportedly suitable for direct consumption in a few areas. Wild elephants paraded on the narrow roads amid coffee estates in Karnataka’s Kodagu district.

A large herd of wild elephants camped for three days in Sanamaduvu village near Hosur on the Kanyakumari-Mumbai six-lane national highway in Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district.

A five-metre-long king cobra was found on a once busy walkthrough road to the Thirumala hills in Andhra Pradesh. A leopard was roaming near Chennai’s Mahindra Information Technology city. All these examples show the lockdown allowed wild animals to roam freely.

The lockdown, however, also ended up as a blessing in disguise for hunters.

There are 1,415 viruses in animals that can possibly reach humans (zoonotic diseases). Sixty-three per cent of them, including the Nipah virus that emerged in 1998 in Malaysia, reportedly infected humans.

Tamil Nadu has four tiger reserves — Kalakkad Mundanthurai, Mudumalai, Sathyamangalam and Anamalai — in the Western Ghats that are administered by 46 forest divisions on nearly 2.3 million hectares forest area.

Wild animals such as elephants, tigers, leopards, boars, rabbits, fox, lorises, rats, monitor, deer, gaur, ant eaters, mongoose, civet, wild pigs, squirrels, birds and reptiles are commonly found in this region. These near-extinct animals are the target of poachers.

The lockdown led to reduced availability of meat. People who live on the fringes of forest areas, began hunting easy prey, including rabbits, birds, wild pig and deer, as several of them were forced into long-term unemployment.

Forest officials recently arrested four poachers for hunting deer in the Urigam forest range in Krishnagiri. On the direction of the district forest officer, each offender was fined Rs 25,000.

Poisonous snakes, including Russell’s Viper, the python and the common krait entered human habitations close to the mountainous range in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district.

During the last week of April, a leopard from the Western Ghats range entered villages in Thirunelveli district and killed livestock.

Wild animals entering human settlements may catch infection and spread it to other wild animals in the forest, a severe threat to the wildlife ecosystem.

Hunting wild animals

Big cats, including tigers and leopards, became victims of hunting. After the lockdown was imposed, 135 cases were filed and 25 hunters were arrested in Tamil Nadu. Nine of these arrests were from the Sathyamanagalam tiger reserve zone alone.

Three were arrested on charges of killing and eating monitor lizards at Kathanviduthi village in Tamil Nadu’s Pudukottai district. They filmed themselves attempting to trap the reptiles and uploaded the videos on social media.

The monitor lizard is a schedule-I reptile, which prompted officials to trace and arrest the individuals.

Six school students captured rabbits from local forests in Thanjavur district’s Pattukottai forest range during the first week of May.

They filmed and uploaded videos of themselves cooking rabbit meat on social media, leading to their detention.

Since they were juveniles, the district forest officer imposed a fine of Rs 15,000 on each of them. The students were let off with a warning.

It is learnt that the teens saw videos on social media and decided to hunt animals for themselves. In fact, the Tamil Nadu Wildlife Act, 1972 provides enough safeguards to protect wild animals. But because of laxity in implementation, offenders go free in several cases.

According to Tamil Nadu’s forest minister Dindigul C Srinivasan, Rs 40.97 lakh was collected as fine for offences including trespassing and poaching inside forests in the first month of the lockdown.

Dharmapuri forest division alone collected Rs 11 lakh.

These instances led the state government to tighten security measures for controlling poaching.

During the initial phase of the lockdown, the carcasses of two tigers were found on the Anamalai forest area in Pollachi division. A post-mortem report revealed they ate wild boar meat mixed with poison.

Farmers wanted to kill the big cats who allegedly killed domestic animals and preyed on humans: Two locals were arrested in this case.

The media often reports wild animals like elephants, boar and deer get electrocuted from electrical fences meant to protect the field crops.

Economic prosperity and environmental sustainability will at high risk if the ecological balance is destroyed due to poaching and hunting.

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