Chanakya IAS Academy Blog

  • The Issue at hand
    • Instances of man-animal conflict involving damage to crops and property and even loss of life, have been increasing.
    • This prompted Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC), in June 2015, to ask states to send proposals to declare wild animals ‘vermin’ for specified period in a given area.
    • As a result of these consultations, the Union Environment Ministry issued a notification declaring the Nilgai in Bihar, monkey in Himachal Pradesh and wild boar in Uttarakhand as vermin.
    • The matter has been a point of clash between the Ministry and wildlife activists. Wildlife activists, Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, and other concerned groups criticised the government for allowing such a move. A plea to stay the notification has been rejected by the Supreme Court.
      • The apex court, however, issued a caveat saying the culling of wild animals can take place only when they enter areas of human habitation and they cannot be hunted in their homes.
    • However, the issue has triggered a wider debate on the correct means to resolve man-animal conflict.
  • Legal provisions
    • 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.
    • Existing legal provisions for objective management of man-animal conflict:
      • 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.
    • The notification by the Union Environment to declare wild boar, rhesus macaque, and nilgai as vermin means reprieve for those who kill these animals in the specified areas for a year after these notifications, from the jail terms and fines that hunting these animals typically invite
      • Wildlife laws also consider hunted wildlife as ‘government property’ and impose restrictions on how these carcasses must be disposed. Once slotted as vermin, these animals, in the words of a wildlife conservationist, are “open season” and could become easy game for hunters as well as traders in meat
  • The overall debate
    • The issue has triggered a debate on whether it is the correct way to resolve man-animal conflicts.
    • The killing of wildlife that causes damage to crops, may seem necessary to avert economic losses and save lives but doesn’t hold ground on environmental and moral pedestrals.
    • Rationale for culling
      • The animals cause damage to life and property. The damage to crops result in huge economic losses.
      • The population of some species has been booming. Hence, the instances of man-animal conflict has been increasing.
    • Opinions against culling:
      • Need to explore the reasons for man-animal conflict first and tackle them
        • 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: The feeding of animals by tourists changes the feeding habits of animals who henceforth loose the hesitance in approaching humans for food; reason for many attacks.
      • Removal through capture or killing may not prevent recurrence of conflicts and may even exacerbate them.
      • 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.
      • Need for a policy and scientific management of wild animals : The time has arrived for a nation-wide policy framework to manage human-wildlife conflict. Scientific management of wild animals should necessarily involve population control.
  • Way Ahead
    • There is a need to balance interests in the resolution of man-animal conflicts. Certainly damage to life and property needs to be avoided but destroying the wildlife and environment is not the way out. Hence, culling must be restrained and only the last resort.
    • There are a number of other more innovative solutions to the problem rather than culling, such as
      • Ensuring human safety by adopting measures to reduce human injuries and fatalities due to wildlife. These 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
      • 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
      • better garbage disposal and avoiding deliberate or accidental feeding of animals reduces risks associated with wild animals like monkeys.
      • Use modern technology such as mobile phones for SMS alerts, customised apps, automated wildlife detection and warning systems
    • 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
      • 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.
    • Crop insurance for wildlife damage, which the Environment Ministry recently recommended can be included in the National Crop/Agricultural Insurance Programme
    • Any scientific management policy for wildlife must be adapted to the population dynamics of the wild animal and be region specific. Not all animals that come across as populated and create nuisance for humans, may be in need of culling, experts note.
    • Long term population dynamics- A study of long term population dynamics is necessary. The reason for man-animal conflict may not be an increase in population but might be something altogether different. Hence, reducing population doesn’t tackle the conflict.
      • For eg, the “south Indian monkey” are believed to be highly populated in Karnataka and created nuisance for tourists but a recent study had shown that the population of bonnet macaques had declined by 60 per cent between 1989 and 2009.
      • Hence, the reason why monkey population was observed to be declining and increasingly attacking humans for food in Karnataka was that fruit-bearing trees in Karnataka’s cities were found to be disappearing.
    • In the end, opinion among experts is unanimous that scientific monitoring of wild animals must be extended outside the reserved forest area and if necessary, animal census be conducted outside protected areas to understand why certain species are entering into greater conflict with humans
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