Culling Wild Animals Abhorrent but Choices are Limited

A battle has erupted between environment minister Prakash Javdekar on one side, and noted animal right activist and central minister Ms Maneka Gandhi along with animal rights groups on the other. Issue at hand is permission granted by environment ministry to kill Nilgai in Bihar. Activists representing animal rights groups call killing of Nilgai in Bihar a massacre. They want minister of environment and forest to resign. Environment ministry says culling is allowed as per existing law of the land. Permission to contain number of wild animals are given as and when states ask for it. State governments of Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, have asked permission of ministry of environment and forest to contain number of wild boars, monkeys, Nilgais, porcupines etc. by declaring them as vermin  These animals  damage crops, attack people and generally create a menace. 

Many right thinking people have questioned if killing of animals is the right way to contain their number? Let me make it clear, I am against cruelty to animals. I do not like an animal being killed. I love to see wild animals in forests. I visit national parks to see wild animals. But my sympathy and empathy goes only so far. I want a safe distance between me and a rampaging wild monkey or for that matter any wild animal. To top it, I eat meat. I do not kill, but as long someone else does the dirty work, I have no problem eating meat. So I am a hypocrite like many others.

Governments have many people like me. They are good at heart but devoid of ideas. Faced with a dilemma of protecting hapless humans from rampaging animals, they take an easy way out. They advocate culling.  There are alternatives like use of solar powered electric fencing. In several states alternative measures have not really been very successful. Meanwhile, in many states wild animals damage crops and threaten population. In Tamil Nadu,   elephants destroy crops. Lion pride have been reported to attack villagers, their cattle and even forest guards in Gir forest of Gujarat. Man eating tigers snatch humans and cattles in Sunderbans of West Bengal. Wild rhesus monkeys snatch food, attack people and generally create a menace in many places. In Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat wild boars dig up cultivated lands. Nilgais and porcupines also cause damage to crop in many parts of India. 

Farmers that suffer from animal activity are poor. If government does not act in response to their distress, villagers are likely to take law in their own hand. There are reports of leopard being beaten and set on fire. In a resource starved country like India, there are not many options. Yet options have to be found both in short term and in long term to avoid man animal conflict. 

  • Ideally, humans should be stopped from encroaching in forests and animal territories. Rising population of humans in India is the real problem. Population control of humans is a distant dream and may not happen in short term. More so when politicians believe population is an asset. 

  • Compensating a farmer in a speedy manner for loss of cattle and farm produce may be an option. But in our country government machinery works slowly. Many farmers may find it is easy to kill animal than extract compensation from government.

  • Animals stray into human settlement in search of food and in the face of depleting forest cover. Approaches like use of energised fences or digging trenches have not really been very successful.  

  • Connect different reserve forests and create corridors for passage of animals from one forest to another. This may minimise animals straying into human settlements. 

  • In some developed countries, highways that pass through reserve forests are elevated with tunnels underneath for passage of animals. In India, trains passing through reserve forests run over animals. Though situation has improved greatly in Rajaji National park but trend continues in other parts of the country.

  • Create awareness and sensitivity about human animal conflict. Indians are reasonably tolerant about any life form. Still when livelihood is threatened, people may lose sense of balance.

  • Sterilisation of animals may be a good option. It is done regularly on stray dogs in some Indian cities. But who will sterilise a bull elephant or a lion? 

  • In a state like Himachal Pradesh which has almost 50% forest cover still see monkey menace. Monkeys attack humans for food, often bite people and create nuisance in general. Depleting habitat may not be a problem here. Easily availability of food in cities may be bigger problem. It is advisable not to feed wild animals, dispose garbage scientifically without dumping it in the open. Practice of such civic sense may be hard to expect in India.

Animal right activists too must exhibit a balanced view between human and animal rights. I recently heard a noted animal activists lamenting how hungry monkey mothers have to carry their babies when they go searching food.  She forgot to mention that monkeys have been doing this since eternity. They do not leave their babies in a creche when they go out to work.

Culling may be abhorrent, it can reduce the number of animals in short term. Culling may disturb delicate balance in wildlife between species unless done in a scientific manner. Actually, rise in species of certain animals may be an indication of such disturbed balance.

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