As the Centre for the first time allows widespread culling of nilgais, it triggers a debate over whether culling is the only way to save crops from wild animals
Madhya Pradesh farmer Umakant Solanki does not believe in the saying, “As you sow, so shall you reap”. The president of Laxmi Sharda Janhit Samiti, an association of farmers from Mandsaur district, says more than half of the opium produce from the area was lost to nilgais (blue bull) last year. The members of the association have been organising hunger protests since last December in different parts of the district to pressure the state to declare nilgais vermin. They are now hopeful after the nilgai cullings in Bihar broadened the debate on human-animal conflict to include livelihood and sustenance.
In the first week of June, the Bihar government hired trained shooters from Hyderabad to cull nilgais. The move was based on a December 1, 2015 notification by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&cc) that declared the nilgai and wild boar vermin in some districts of Bihar. Two more notifications followed—one on February 3 classifying wild boar as vermin in districts of Uttarakhand and the other on May 24 pronouncing rhesus macaque (monkey) as vermin in some districts of Himachal Pradesh, allowing their culling for one year. Such a declaration paves the way for killing animals that pose a danger to human life or property, including standing crops.
The Bihar incident, where 250 niligais were culled in flat three days, triggered infighting in the government, with Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister of Women and Child Development and a former environment minister, openly questioning the move. “I don’t understand this lust for killing,” Gandhi said. Her sentiment is being echoed by animal lovers and wildlife activists who allege state-sponsored murdering of wildlife is based on human convenience. In fact, animal activist Gauri Maulekhi moved the Supreme Court against the Bihar incident, saying the “mindless slaughter of protected animals without holding any inquiry” was unconstitutional. The apex court on June 20 refused to stay the MoEF&cc notifications.
The move is historic because it is for the first time since Independence that the Union government has exercised Section 62 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WPA), to allow large-scale culling of wild animals (see ‘What led to the surge in culling’). So far, only section 11 (b) of WPA, under which the state chief wildlife warden can permit hunting of wild animals, has been widely used by states to contain wild animals.
The Bihar incident has started a debate on whether it is correct to cull animals that pose a threat to not only the lives but also livelihood of people. It has also highlighted that the threat from wild animals is no more a state problem.
Not just Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, almost all the states in the northern half of India are living in the fear of nilgais. According to a 2009 note by the Union agriculture ministry, the extent of crop damage due to nilgai is 50-70 per cent in Uttar Pradesh, 50-60 per cent in Haryana, 10-20 per cent in Gujarat. In fact, Gujarat government in 2007-08 had empowered 3,475 village panchayat sarpanches to kill nilgais.
If the last year was cruel for Mandsaur farmers in central India, in the East, people are getting killed by elephants. The situation is so grim that the West Bengal government has approached the Centre to allow the killing of elephants, which is listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act. The reason for their desperation: 108 people have been killed in the state by elephant attacks last year. The total figure of casualties between 2006 and 2015 was just 42. The ordeal does not end here. Farmers in Bankura district, one of the worst hit areas, say a herd of 80 elephants has virtually parked itself in the area since March and plunder the region at its will (see ‘On a field trip’,).
Farmers in the south have similar tales to tell not just about wild animals but also birds—including the national bird peacock. Goa agriculture minister Ramesh Tawadkar in March landed in a controversy after he said peacock “should be declared a vermin” and culled periodically. Peacock is a Sche-dule I bird. A public outcry forced Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar to rule out the inclusion of peacocks in the vermin list.
Explaining the gravity of the matter, a senior MoEF&cc official says the ministry on an average receives three letters a week from state governments to declare animals as vermin. “The ministry does not maintain a list of the letters,” he adds. State forest officials of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu confirmed they had sent proposals to declare at least 12 wild animals—elephants, wild boars, Indian porcupine, Indian gaur, sambar, bonnet macaque, common langur, barking deer, mouse deer, blacknaped hare, malabar giant squirrel and peafowl— vermin in the past.
It's either kill or die
While there is no denying that the cases of animal attacks are on the rise, groups are split over the reasons and on the “right way of handling” the problem. S K Khanduri, Inspector General of Forests (Wildlife), MoEF&cc, attributes the current situation to India’s “conservation culture that has been driven more by emotion than logic” (see ‘Indian laws only talk of conservation, not management’,). In fact, forest officials across the country have time and again said ill-conceived conservation efforts have led to a remarkable increase in the number of wild animals, who are now locked in a fight with humans over land and fodder. For example, Gujarat forest department officials say the nilgai numbers in the state have risen to 186,000 in 2015 from just 40,000 in 1995—a 465 per cent increase in just 10 years. They justify the Centre’s intervention by saying they are ill-equipped to deal with the surge in the wild population.
“Elephants and wild boars are the main culprits in crop damage in Kerala. While the species are protected under the Schedule 1, the damage caused has left us with no choice but to request the Centre to declare them vermin,” says a senior official in Kerala Department of Agriculture Development and Farmers’ Welfare. A Tamil Nadu forest official echoes the same sentiment when he says, “The department is short-staffed, so declaring the animals vermin will enable farmers to cull the animals.”
While the demand for culling grows stronger, animal rights groups and activists say the rationale for culling is unfounded.
Culling just convenient
Anjali Gopalan of All Creatures Great and Small, which works on providing shelter to animals, says the recent culling drive is the government’s desperate attempt to hide the poor state of agriculture in the country. “Farmers in the country are committing suicide because of lack of resources and not animal raids. The government is using animal culling as a tactic to appease the angry farmers. It will not yield results,” she says.
Activists also question the way culling is been carried out. They say the current drive is based on popular perception rather than on data. The country does not have data on either the population of the animals proposed to be culled, or on the extent of crop damage. In fact, the Uttarakhand proposal on the basis of which the Union government allowed culling of wild boars in the state clearly says, “There is no scientific survey or census of the wild boar population that has been carried out. However, since the crop damage caused by wild boar is increasing, the wild boar is estimated to be overpopulated.” The same is true for monkeys and nilgais. “The concept of vermin has been created for short-term human convenience, based on many flawed assumptions,” says Maulekhi (see 'Vermins are created by humans for convenience',). Mewa Singh, a primatologist, and conservation biologist with the University of Mysore, says the assumption that human-animal conflicts mean overpopulation of animals is flawed. “We have monitored bonnet macaques on a 100-km stretch of all roads radiating from Mysore for 25 years. Their population has declined by 60 per cent over the period, but instances of crop loss still continues.” Simply because one encounters a species quite regularly does not mean they are in excess and need to be culled. The same may be true for many other species.
Conservationists and ecologists also say that merely declaring certain animals vermin is not a solution because this conflict is due to other reasons including receding forests and proliferation of herbivores in the absence of fewer preying carnivores. They warn unscientific and abrupt decisions made without data will cause more harm than good in the long run.
Singh warns culling can actually increase the incidence and degree of human-animal conflict. “The fact that an area is inhabited by a species means the region is conducive to them. Culling will create a vacuum that will attract animals from nearby regions, resulting in an increased human-animal conflict as the new arrivals would have to adjust to the new and unknown environment. Also, the movement of animals from their natural place would create an immediate imbalance in that region,” he explains.
Maulekhi’s petition, which has been rejected by the Supreme Court, says, “The open hunting of one species will lower inhibitions and provoke locals and hunters to engage in hunting other animals resulting in indiscriminate illegal killings of animals in the area... This will have a detrimental effect on the food chain and in turn lead to an ecological imbalance.”
Too late to act
The Bihar government, which sanctioned the nilgai cullings, has long known about the problem, but failed to act. On November 11, 2009, when the Union agriculture ministry met representatives from six states for the first time to discuss steps to stop crop damage by nilgais, culling was not even an option. Bihar had submitted a proposal for setting up of a micro-survey team at the sub-division level headed by a zoologist, and a district-level operational team headed by a veterinary doctor for blue bull management. It projected a budgetary requirement of Rs 2 crore towards tranquiliser guns, castrators, medicines and cameras along with tagging to monitor the castrated animals. However, the project never saw the light of the day. Among the other measures, using chemical repellents, bio-fencing using thorny shrubs and trenching was also suggested by different state representatives. A private company in Hyderabad also made a proposal for solar fencing of farmlands which could generate low intensity electric shocks to trespassers. None of the measures were carried out.
Interestingly, there has been much research on how to dissuade wild animals from raiding fields. In Rajasamand district of Rajasthan, veterinary researcher Urvashi Nandal, along with farmers from the district, has been documenting strategies to curb nilgais from damaging crops. In a paper published in the Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge in January 2016, she mentions certain strategies which have been beneficial to local farmers. “Blue bulls are afraid of shining materials which reflect light from far away. Due to this reason, farmers tie audio and video tapes roll all around the crop fields with wooden sticks,” the paper states. The researchers also observed that a blue bull excreta acts as repellant for other herds. A similar idea has been proposed by a Delhi-based mechanical engineering student, Abhay Sharma, who has invented the Animal Intrusion Detection and Repellent System (ANIDERS) device. The machine uses a combination of light and sound to scare animals away and triggers only when intrusion is detected. “The mechanism is of a bright LED light and hooters that are triggered with the help of passive infrared sensor that detects infrared light—energy spectrum emitted by warm-blooded animals. The pattern of alarm call by the device changes over a period of time, since animals get immune to similar patterns,” he says.
Even sterilisation has helped Himachal Pradesh to curb attacks by monkeys. State forest officials say it has been effective in some areas especially in Shimla, but catching monkeys and bringing them to the sterilisation centre on the outskirts of the state capital is still an expensive proposition. Raman Sukumar, ecologist and member of the National Board for Wildlife, says the country today needs a balanced approach between conservation and culling. He calls for “mitigation by introducing a suite of measures from guarding to barriers around farms to using sterilisation, culling and relocation”.
The views mentioned in the columns are personal
|What led to the surge in culling
The Centre has more power now in deciding which animal to be culled
September 1972: The Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) enacted. It has three sections that allow states to cull wild animals:
Section 11 (b) allows hunting of wild animals if the chief wildlife warden "is satisfied that any wild animal specified in schedules II, III or IV has become dangerous to human life or to property".
Section 61 gives the power to ªadd or delete any entry to or from any schedule or transfer any entry from one part of the schedule to another part of the same schedule or from one schedule to another".
Section 62 gives the power to "declare any wild animal other than those specified in Schedule I and Part II of Schedule II as vermin for any area and for such period as may be specified therein and so long as such notification is in force, such wild animal shall be deemed to have been included in Schedule V"
October 1991: WPA amended to transfer sections 61 and 62 to the Centre. Ministry of Environment, Farmers and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) officials say they on an average receives three letters every week from the states to include various wild animals under Section 62
December 2014: MoEF&CC for the first time issues a notification asking states to send proposals for wild animals to be culled under Section 62
December 2015: MoEF&CC issues a notification that declares the nilgai and wild boar vermin in some districts of Bihar. Two other notifications followed
The protected wild
How wild animals are classified under the Wildlife Protection Act
Schedule I: Contains the "most threatened" animals and birds such as tigers and elephants. They are offered highest protection
Part I of Schedule II: Contains mammals and reptiles whose trade or handling requires a licence. It includes bonnet macaques and chameleon
Part II of Schedule II: contains only beetles. The list is given as importance as Schedule I
Schedule III: contains mammals which cannot be hunted but dealing with animal articles requires licence. It has animals like nilgai and wild boar
Schedule IV: contains birds that cannot be hunted but dealing with bird articles and trophies requires licence. It includes rose-ringed parakeet
Schedule V: contains vermin living in the wild. The list contains common crow, fruit bats, mice and rats, and they can be freely hunted
Culling must be done scientifically
Bihar HAS made it to the headlines for legally mass killing nilgais (blue bull).
The culling has sparked intense reaction across society, animal rights activists, and politicians. Farmers, who are the primary sufferers, want to get rid of the animals. Activists argue that the root cause of problems—deforestation, destruction of habitat and human ingression into wildlife habitat—need to be addressed for a long-term solution. The issue is not simple and so is its possible solution. Nilgai is found in 16 states of the country and cause substantial crop damage. The animal in protected areas is not a cause of concern. The real concern is the high population in agricultural landscapes.
These agricultural areas are devoid of nilgai predators and the animal gets nutritious food which keeps them reproductively healthy. Non-invasive methods of mitigation measures include fencing, guarding crops and using repellent devices or methods. Some of the methods are successful where population is small, but for its application in large areas, feasibility needs to be assessed. Other control measures suggested, but yet not tested, include invasive methods of translocation or sterilisation.
Wildlife Trust of India has translocated a small nilgai herd from the Indira Gandhi International Airport in 2014. However, it took several days to accomplish the operation. So, capturing large herds would not be easy. People have also suggested nilgais can be released in forest areas. But we do not have forests which could accommodate such a large number of animals. Feasibility and efficacy of population control through sterilisation is yet to be ascertained in the case of nilgai. Culling must be scientific to avoid extermination of the species from any area. Government and non-government agencies must keep crop depredation by wild animals in high priority while devising methods for mitigation.
Sinha works with the Wildlife Trust of India and is a member of the State Board for Wildlife, Bihar
Indian laws only talk of conservation, not management
our conservation is driven more by emotion than by logic. We expect communities that are dependent on forests to learn to coexist with the wildlife and participate in their conservation process. But we miss the simple logic that an individual who is constantly paying a price for the wildlife cannot be expected to love it. Therefore, we need to have a strategy to reduce this cost if we want cooperation of the communities interacting with wildlife.
The present approach and laws have been primarily framed with the presumption that forests are short of resources and protection is to be ensured. Situation has changed now. Tremendous conflicting situations in human landscape are often resulting from local overpopulation of a few life forms on which there is no disagreement.
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WPA), does not allow forest managers to work on management. It is all about protection and restoration. Better protection resulting in high productivity is expected to result in better population, needing its management if it overflows in some areas. This is the situation today in many human-dominated landscapes. While local population management is an established practice of wildlife management worldwide, there is no room for it in our law.
Hunting the identified animals or groups in Schedule 11 (b) of WPA is provided in the context of maneaters and rogue individual animal. These species act the way weeds act in plant ecology. States have tried using schedule 11 (b) to contain large populations but have faced problems in identification and issuing permits. This is the reason the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) issued an advisory in December 2014, which is at the centre of the current debate. The advisory, which was issued 19 months earlier, emphasised legal and management responsibilities of states. This letter actually sought proposals from the states for central assistance offered by MoEF&CC for mitigation and management of human-wildlife conflict. This was not only issued to the states, but was also shared with state and Union ministers in July 2015, besides being kept in public domain on the website of the ministry. These facts have been conveniently ignored by the literate activists.
Interestingly, nobody has pointed out the Schedule 61 of WPA, which provides for complete powers to the Union government for declaring any species in any schedule as vermin. Using this would have meant scope of it across the country, including that in the forests. For utmost precaution against this, Schedule 62 has been used for limited identified places, for limited time.
Lastly, the issues largely have been raised about the animal rights and cruelty. Unfortunately, this aspect is not covered under the WPA at present. There are other laws existing in this regard, which have not been discussed in this discourse so far.
Khanduri is the Inspector General of Forests (Wildlife), MoEF&CC
Vermins are created by humans for convenience
The concept of vermin has been created for short-term human convenience, based on many flawed assumptions. In Bihar, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, blue bull, wild boar and rhesus macaque have been declared vermin under Section 62 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Declaring them vermin removes all protection of the Act from these species in these states. The law is also silent on how the government should deal with a situation where such animals are destroying crops and are venturing into habitation. In the absence of a policy based on science, the reign of shoot-at-sight is prevailing, for the first time since 1972.
The Union and the state governments are shying away from providing any reasons for the sudden spike in man-animal conflict in the past few years. Less than satisfactory justifications for the carnage are being offered which include: Overpopulation-Although no scientific survey/census has been done to assess population of such animals nor has an assessment been done on the carrying capacity of the forest areas.
Crop damage-No data has been collected regarding the actual crop damage, nor has scientific methods been employed to prevent animals from getting into fields.
Even if we were to assume that the species have become overpopulated and are causing damage to crops, where are the non-invasive ameliorative methods? Where are the scientific studies and consultations? Where is the assessment of consequences of reopening hunting of wild animals in India? This is where the government fails us.
For decades, the forests in India have been thoroughly and brazenly mismanaged. An analysis by non-profit Centre for Science and Environment shows that the National Wildlife Advisory Board, which approves developmental projects in and around national parks and sanctuaries, gave a go-ahead to 301 projects in seven meetings since 2014, as opposed to 260 projects by the previous government. Unabated encroachment on forests and rampant mining has forced the wild animals to turn towards habitation. Natural forests are being turned into timber plantations. Continuous forests are being fragmented by roads, townships and industrial areas. Simple minded river linking projects have already started wrecking havoc and the result is for all to see.
Now the Union and state governments are trying to get two wrongs to make a right. Instead of correcting the mistakes, wild animals are being gunned down, because if the reasons of the conflict come out, Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar's head might have to roll. Based on a thorough perusal of all the available government data it has been established that Javdekar and his men have looked the other way on the above omissions and have actively encouraged the trigger-happy approach.
Maulekhi is an animal rights activist who recently petitioned in Supreme Court against the Bihar cullings
On a field trip
The animals that are causing widespread crop damage in India
States impacted: Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana
Crops damaged: Pulses, paddy, vegetables, opium, corn and wheat
Diet: 14 kg of dry biomass a day for an adult
States impacted: Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Assam
Crops damaged: All kinds of food crops including vegetables and fruits
Diet: Omnivorous. An adult needs about two kg of mixed biomass along with small insects/earthworms
States impacted: Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Gujarat
Crops damaged: Food grains and fruits
Monkeys (Rhesus macaque and bonnet macaque)
States impacted: Rhesus macaque impacts all the big settlements across the country while bonnet macaques are considered a nuisance in southern Indian states
Crops damaged: Fruits, vegetables, tuber, wheat, corn and paddy
Diet: An adult monkey needs 150g a day, but they tend to overeat
States impacted: West Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu
Crops damaged: Sugarcane, coconuts, plantins, maize and paddy
Diet: Elephants feed for 12-18 hours a day. An adult elephant eats 90-200 kg of foliage a day
|The global story
Many countries regularly cull animals to keep their population under check
Badgers Between 2006 and 2012, England culled 1,861 badgers because the authorities suspected the animal of spreading bovine tuberculosis disease to cattle. Since then, the UK government has been regularly culling badgers
Seals Seals are regularly slaughtered on the ice floes off Canada's east coast to protect the North Atlantic cod fishery. Every year, the government sets the number of seals to be killed. This year Canada plans to kill 468,000 seals
Bats The Mauritius Fruit Bat is perceived to be causing significant damage to commercial fruit crops. The Mauritius government has ordered the culling of 18,000 of these bats
Kangaroos In May every year, Australia culls 2,000 kangaroos, the county's national animal, to avoid widespread damage to the vegetation
The story was published in the 1-15 July, 2016 issue of the magazine.
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