Mull the Cull: The Killing Fields

Suhas Kumar

blue bull-black buck

The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.
― Rachel Carson

A December 2012 report of the expert group on pulses noted that blue bull menace was widespread in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and that there was no viable strategy available in the country to effectively counter the menace.

On 15 December 2015 the Economic Times wrote : “As per the December 1 notification, the Bihar government has reported “harm to life and property including large scale destruction of agriculture due to overpopulation of Nilgai and wild pig in areas outside forests. As many as 31 districts in Bihar will now be able to get rid of the crop-devouring Nilgai, or blue bull, and 10 districts will be able to cull wild pigs. The animals are currently under Schedule III of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. They have been brought under Schedule V for a year to enable the cull. The environment ministry had earlier this year asked states to send proposals on any animal other than endangered ones that are seen as vermin”. Stating that the Centre considered it necessary to “balance local population of these species to mitigate the damage to human life, crop and other properties of the state”, the ministry has under Section 62 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, declared the Nilgai and wild pig vermin. The 31 districts where Nilgai is regarded as persona non grata include Patna, Nalanda, Madhubani, Siwan, Rohtas, Buxar and Gaya, among others. The wild pig will find itself unwelcome in 10 districts, including Motihari, Muzaffarpur, Rohtas, Nawada, Vaishali and Saran.”

An animal listed as vermin in the Act has no legal protection whatsoever and may be killed at will. So here the situation is not of ‘scientific culling’ but free for all ‘killing’.

The order was recently challenged but the court refused to interfere as the law has no ambiguity – the state governments have powers to shift any animal listed in Sch I to IV of the Act to list V (vermin) with prior permission of the central government.

Though, the state of Bihar now has listed blue bull and wild pig as vermin it is playing very safe by allowing only small numbers of blue bull to be killed by a professional hunter. For wild pig the state or the farmers have no strategy – the reason is simple the wild pig is a prolific breeder and a tenacious animal that refuses to die easily- once hit by pellets and even bullet a wild pig is capable of running several miles and surviving the pellets or the bullet. Following the December 15, approximately 250 blue bull were killed in the past six months by professional hunters. I had a personal discussion with Nawab Safat Ali Khan who has been assigned to kill blue bulls in Bihar. He explained that he only targets the old and the weak animals. When I asked him how such a strategy would bring down the blue bull population to a level that the crop damage is mitigated/eliminated, he gave me a unconvincing answer –“he said that killing of the old and the weak ones deter the herds from coming back to the area for a few months”. It is quite obvious that the Killing a few blue bulls therefore is not going to help the farmers as it would never produce the desired goal of eliminating /mitigating crop damage.

Similarily, in March 2016, the State of Himachal Pradesh declared rhesus macaque as vermin for a year but not a single monkey has been killed by anyone. Local leaders and farmers are averse to killing monkeys and they are demanding their capture and shifting to natuarl habitats.
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Now the question is will this killing spree really help the farmers? The answer is a big NO. Crop damage by blue bull and wild pig can be significantly mitigated only when the population of these animals is either exterminated in the problem areas or the population is brought down drastically either by killing or removing a large part of it to a level that it would take years to recover sp as to become a threat to crops.

Obviously the current strategy of killing few animals here and there (which the MoEF and the newspapers are wrongly calling ‘culling’) is useless as such an exercise may trigger a sudden rise in blue bull population in those area where these killings are taking place. In my view such decisions are political stratagem to befool the people.

As I have mentioned in my previous notes the issue of Human: wildlife conflict is not a new development. In fact it is a worldwide phenomenon. Different countries have their own way of handling this conflict. The easiest has been exterminating the ‘’ pest’’ species. In India, Indians are divided on the issue of killing wild animals. Indian culture has inculcated those values that deter us from destroying life. This is the reason why people in India, compared to the people in western world, have been relatively tolerant to the wild animals despite the losses they suffer from them.

The number and magnitude of the incidents of crop raiding, loss of human life, livestock depredation and injury to humans has increased significantly over the last 2 decades in India and as a result the last decade has witnessed a decline in these values and we have seen several instances of brutality against animals that strayed had strayed into human habitations in search of food and water. The recent decision to kill monkeys, blue bull and wildpig is a manifestation of that changing values as well as aversion to accept the fact that unmindful, lopsided and myopic development activities are the sole reason for this impasse. Though the conflict with wildlife has increased in the present times owing to our own actions and inactions , there are options available to mitigate conflicts with wildlife if the government is willing to spend time and money on those strategies.

To get a grip on the solutions, It would be worthwhile first to understand what has triggered aggravation in the human: wildlife conflict today:

1. Loss, fragmentation and pollution of wild habitats:According to a report based on MoEF data (published in, over the last 30 years around 15,000 sq kms of forest land were usurped by encroachers and about 14000 square kms were diverted for 23,716 industrial projects including mining projects.. Currently, up to 25,000 hectares of forests – 250 sq km are handed over every year for “non-forestry activities”, including defence projects, dams, mining, power plants, industries and roads, The rate of “diversion”, as the process is called, varies across states. Madhya Pradesh has diverted 2,477 sq kms of its rich forests to non-forest use that includes the mining projects. A major part of the forest land- an elephant corridor- was diverted in Singrauli for coal mining. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of India in one of its publication: (2006): Forest Cover in Tiger Reserves of India — Status and Changes, reports that the forest cover in the outer surround (10 km radial distance from the periphery) has decreased in 21 tiger reserves, increased in 2 reserves and remained unchanged in rest five. Thus between 1997 and 2002 – in a short span of 5 years 124 sq km forest cover was lost in the outer surround of the 28 tiger reserves.

2. Expanding cities are destroying natural corridors; Last 2 decades have seen a rapid expansion of small cities into mega cities- for example the town of Bhopal has expanded in all directions eating into wildlife habitats and riparian and scrub corridors- resulting in increased conflict with wild animals especially dispersing and resident tigers of Ratapani sanctuary.
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3. Poorly planned expansion of roads and construction of large dams and canals without providing ecological safeguards through retrofitting have fragmented wildlife habitats: The disruption of elephant corridor from Motichur, Dehradun to Corbett national park is an example of ill conceived development that has created serious human: elephant conflict in the region.

4. Degradation of wildlife habitats in forests outside PAs owing to competitive exclusion of herbivores by rapidly growing livestock population: India has about one fifth of the world’s total number of cattle, the largest number of cattle in the world. In 1997, the total livestock population in 1951 was only around 293 million but by 2012 the total livestock population consisting of Cattle, Buffalo, Sheep, Goat, pig, Horses & Ponies, Mules, Donkeys, Camels, Mithun and Yak in the country reache 512.05 million. According to 2012 count rural livestock population in Madhya Pradesh the stands at 34.73million. Out of 51527 villages there are 22000 villages in Madhya Pradesh in close proximity of forests or within the forests therefore half of the livestock population directly depends on the forests and compete with the herbivores. Grazing by cattle leaves almost nothing for the herbivores compelling them to leave forests and raid crop fields.

5. The other interesting fact is that the wild animals like blue bull, blackbuck and wild pig have become adapted to rural habitats and live in scrub forests and crop fields permanently Chandla in Chhattarpur district and several villages in Rewa are examples where blue bull are resident in rural habitats. In some areas cultivation of sugarcane and corn provides habitats to both herbivores and carnivores. Buffer of Dhudwa tiger reserve in UP ( sugar cane fields) and buffer of Pench in M.P ( maize and sugarcane fields) are examples of such rural habitats.

6. Diminishing availability of water and food within non-PA forests over the years is also a major factor that drives wild animals to rural and urban habitations.

7. Latest enactment that has granted rights to people to cultivate and live within wildlife habitats is another factor that brings people in direct conflict with wildlife as both people and wildlife compete for the same resources.

8. Wildlife reserves are like islands where wild animals are protected and are thriving but beyond the boundaries of protected areas the forest habitats are depleted and at several locations the PAs are directly juxtaposed to crop fields and human habitations ( example – Bandhavgarh Tiger reserve) -such areas are high conflict zones.

The truth about efforts by the governments towards mitigating crop damage

The fact is both the central and the state governments have paid only lip service to the issue of managing human: wildlife conflict as they have failed to allocate funds to implement recommendations and proposals of the CWLWs and NGOs.

Possible solutions

There are both long- term and short – term solutions available and if implemented meticulously may yield results. The best results will come from beginning the implementation of both the long and short-term solutions together. For long ranging animals like elephants and tigers there are no short-term solutions.

The short-term solution for mitigating crop damage by blue bull and blackbuck:

  • Mass capture and translocation to prey deficient tiger habitats,
  • electric fencing,
  • sterilization

The Solution to the issue of crop damage by wild pigs:

  • Effective combination fences – using fine mesh wire underground and electric fencing above.,
  • Monkey and langur – Steriliztion, mass capture and rehab in semi-wild facilities where a little hand holding by humans will be necessary for the current generation.
  • The long-term solutions would require preserving corridors by compulsorily incorporating retrofiiting measures in development projects, improving condition of forests and water availability within non-PAs forests and lands within critical corridors.

Some point to ponder

India is a democracy with a great constitution that not only enshrines principles and directives to safeguard human dignity and freedom but also includes principles and duties for Indians to protect nature and all other living creature that inhabit here. Following those mandates, India and Indians have strived hard to protect natural areas to safeguard the interests of wild creatures as well as to provide security to the environment and ecology of this country. By 2013 India had expanded its protected area network to 102 national parks, 526 sanctuaries, 57 conservation reserves, and 4 community reserve covering 5.06 % of the country’s geographical areas across different biogeographic zones.

Then, why it is so that we couldn’t do enough to consolidate our efforts and tackle serious issues like human-wild animal conflict and wildlife conservation beyond protected area boundaries. The reason lies in the fact that despite much hype about India being a mega-biodiversity country and the last bastion of the tiger, wildlife conservation has remained a low priority task for the central as well as state governments. Most of the protected areas are funded by the central government; states only support the salary of staff and a portion of the maintenance expenditure.

The budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Environment and forests by the Planning commission is dismally low and it is getting sparser and sparser every year. In the 12th Plan Rs. 2,000 crore is allocated to MoEF which is only 0.012 per cent of Gross the GDP and less than 0.25 percent of the annual national budget ( source MoEF website) and from this allocation only a small fraction is available for wildlife conservation.

The central government is unable to provide funds for wildlife management outside PAs where most conflicts occur and poaching as well as the retaliatory killing of wild animals takes place. Among the state governments, I know of only one state (Madhya Pradesh) that has created a separate budget head in 2011 for managing wildlife beyond PAs.

For 642 protected areas (excluding tiger reserves) the annual allocation in the 12th Plan is a mere Rs.75 crore per annum – around 12 lakh /annum to each PA. The allocation to the 47 tiger reserves is around Rs.168 crore/ annum

And there is nothing for managing wildlife outside protected areas – whether it is combating wildlife crime, rescuing wildlife, erecting crop protection fences, compensating people for loss of life, injury and crop depredation expeditiously, experimenting with mass capture and translocation of problem animals to other suitable habitats and for funding research to create sterility vaccine that could be administered en masse.

Here it would be useful to know how much a country like the USA spends on conserving their endangered species. An article published in 2012 by the Scientific American reports as follows:

The U.S. federal and state governments spent just more than $1.7 billion to conserve endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in fiscal year (FY) 2012 (from October 1, 2011, to September 30, 2012), according to an accounting recently published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). That’s up from $1.59 billion in FY 2011 and $1.45 billion in FY 2010.

Last year’s expenses included about $307 million to acquire conservation-critical habitats. The remaining outlay went to activities such as research, law enforcement, population censuses, transplanting animals or plants and any other activities performed by the federal or state governments “on behalf of threatened or endangered species” listed under the ESA. The vast majority of the spending came on the federal level; only $85.3 million came from the states. State spending, however, was up from $58.4 million in FY 2011. (Many states have their own endangered species laws and lists, expenses for which would not necessarily be counted in this report.)

There are many different ways to look at these numbers, but here’s one that may put them in some perspective: the U.S. human population stood at 314, 542,177 at the end of FY 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The ESA expenditure of $1.7 billion translates to just $5.40 per person.”

In comparison, our efforts in implementing India’s wildlife Conservation strategy appears half –hearted. The suggestion like culling off the problem animals is a manifestation of a mindset that believes in finding easier and irresponsible ways to solve a serious problem without even trying recommended solutions and without ascertaining whether such a drastic intervention would yield the desired result or not. The issue of Human : wild animal conflict in its aggravated form is already several decades old and has been discussed on various forums and therefore there is no dearth of good recommendations. These recommendations remained within the workshop reports and were never implemented in a systematic and planned manner as there was no political will that could motivate the bureaucrats to go out of the way to find resources and nudge the sleeping field operators to implement those recommendations.

The extant law for scientific management in India and the issue of awarding death penalty to the poor wild creatures

I read with great amusement a reply allegedly given by a spokesperson of the ministry to the media regarding the hot topic of issuance of hunting permission to the state government.

Clarifying the circumstances in which the central government has agreed to the proposal of hunting problematic wild animals , he said that the central government had only agreed to the proposals for the scientific management of certain species that were sent by certain aggrieved states where certain species of wild animals have become a serious problem to the farmers. He added that according to the wildlife (protection) Act the power to Cull (hunt) wild animals rests with the state government.

I see serious flaw in this explanation. The issue of scientific management of wild population is dealt with under section 12 of the Wildlife ( protection) Act. Under this section hunting for the purpose of scientific management includes physical or chemical capture of wild animals. Culling or killing is not included here.

Under section 12 (bb)“Scientific Management” means—

(i) Translocation of any wild animal to an alternative suitable habitat; or

(ii) Population management of wild life without killing or poisoning or destroying any wild animals;]

Under this section permission to hunt a wild animal is subject to the approval of the central government where the animal to be captured belongs to schedule I of the Act and for animals belonging to other schedules concurrence of the state government is mandatory.

Order to hunt ( kill) a wild animal or a group of wild animal is an exclusive power vested in the Chief wildlife warden of the state under section 11 of the WL(P) Act . But this power is underlined with a caveat .

The Section 11 reads as follows:

11. Hunting of wild animals to be permitted in certain cases.—
(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force and subject to the provisions of Chapter IV,—
(a) the Chief Wild Life Warden may, if he is satisfied that any wild animal specified in Schedule I has become dangerous to human life or is so disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery, by order in writing and stating the reasons therefor, permit any person to hunt such animal or cause such animal to be hunted: 1[Provided that no wild animal shall be ordered to be killed unless the Chief Wild Life Warden is satisfied that such animal cannot be captured, transquilised or translocated: Provided further that no such captured animal shall be kept in captivity unless the Chief Wild Life Warden is satisfied that such animal cannot be rehabilitated in the wild and the reasons for the same are recorded in writing. Explanation.—For the purposes of clause (a), the process of capture or translocation, as the case may be, of such animal shall be made in such manner as to cause minimum trauma to the said animal.]
(b) the Chief Wild Life Warden or the authorised officer may, if he is satisfied that any wild animal specified in Schedule II, Schedule III, or Schedule IV, has become dangerous to human life or to property (including standing crops on any land) or is so disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery, by order in writing and stating the reasons therefor, permit any person to hunt [such animal or group of animals in a specified area or cause such animal or group of animals in that specified area to be hunted].

Obviously, as per the extant provision of the Act no culling (killing) can be ordered under section 12(bb) ii,> but the chief wildlife warden may order killing of an individual or a group of wild animals if an animal or a group of animals is found to have become dangerous to human life or to property under section 11 (b) for wild animals belonging to schedule II, III and IV. Before issuing such an order the Chief wildlife warden is law-bound to provide unambiguous reasons for such an writing. Such orders must be site specific with a time frame for execution and cannot be used as a blanket order.

Though we have a law that justifies killing of a wild animal or a group of animals found to be a threat to the life and property of homo sapiens, I don’t see any benefit of exterminating small groups of animals here and there as it would not achieve the purpose i.e. a marked reduction in crop loss. And as some scientific studies indicate such removal may trigger a sudden rise in the population of the target species. Therefore such an exercise is futile as it wouldn’t yield the desired result and may be counterproductive.

Before we delve further into finding a solution to the issue of crop depredation by wild animals, we must examine the history of human development to get a clear picture of the magnitude of the problem and whether the problem of crop loss or the shrinking agriculture base is only attributable to the wild animals? And is this problem so acute that the poor animals must get death penalty and other who are destroying the farmlands reducing the ability of farmers to grow crops on their lands go scot-free?

Suhas Kumar
Suhas Kumar
The author, a 1980 Indian Forest Service officer, is a distinguished wildlife expert. He has played a leading role in administering tiger reserves both in the field and as a top administrator.

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