“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
There is a video in circulation on YouTube that is advocating killing tigers as they move out of their natal areas in search of new habitats and get in conflict with people. The video-maker erroneously believes that all the dispersing tigers are man-eaters and must be killed. How convenient for trophy hunters to spread this falsehood to enjoy killing innocent animals.
A few weeks ago, I attended an international conference One of the themes on which some experts deliberated was – ‘Wildlife Population management’. I found that the group’s recommendations- no.3 to 6, were a disguised attempt to promote trophy hunting which, this group was advocating with all its might throughout the deliberations. and then there was an attempt to get a list of pre-drafted recommendations endorsed by the participants: which fortunately did not materialize. I consider this attempt totally unethical and unprofessional. When their initial attempt to get a consensus on their agenda of trophy hunting faced vehement opposition from some participants, they came to the plenary with a modified set of recommendations, cleverly (rather foolishly) tried to disguise;Trophy hunting by replacing it with the phrase- ‘sustainable utilization”.
They borrowed the term-‘Sustainable use’ From the Biodiversity Act. The Biodiversity Act of India has this specific provision- Section 59 of BDA 2002 clearly lays down that the provisions of this act shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of, the provisions of any other law, for the time being in force, relating to forests or wildlife. Therefore the repeated use of the phrase- ‘sustainable utilization’ in the recommendations of the group does not hold water as the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 clearly prohibits hunting or use of wild animals except in accordance with the situation and procedure laid down in Sections 11 and 12 of the Act. Section 12 though allows hunting it does not permit the killing of animals.
The group advocating trophy hunting and sustainable utilization was blatantly trying to present a false scenario that the wildlife population in the country has exploded and humans are their victims. No data support this assumption. The truth is wild animals have always been the victims of the apathy and greed of the human race. The current Video doing round on youtube is a very cheap attempt to influence the public.
It is my personal knowledge, based on my visits to several sanctuaries, national parks, and tiger reserves in the country, that many PAS including some tiger reserves have very low densities of prey and tigers or no tigers at all. I believe that more than 60% of our tigers live off cattle rather than natural prey. The WII conducts all India population estimations of predators and prey species but once they are done with the analysis of the data for tigers and leopards, they just forget about analysing the prey data in detail for PAs and territorial divisions perhaps because they do not have enough funds to carry out such a massive task. In 2013 the M.P. Wildlife wing had to pay Rs. 32 lakhs to WII to get that data analysed, and the institute took 4 years to complete that analysis. The SFRI, Jabalpur began doing this work after 2016. The reports of both agencies clearly indicate the poor status of the herbivore populations in territorial areas and protected areas of Madhya Pradesh. Therefore, one of the recommendations that this group should have made could be “Every four years the government should ensure estimation of ungulates in the entire state (in PAs, territorial forests, revenue forests, and farmlands in villages).”
The areas that are prone to crop raiding are around some tiger reserves, not all PAs. The damage by blue bulls and blackbuck is restricted to some areas in some districts where these animals live on the farmlands and village scrubs. Therefore, another recommendation should be – “To know the true extent of crop damage and the species of animals involved in it, a state-wide study should be launched at the earliest.” Once that is done, strategies for their management can be evolved easily. The irony is despite organizing several hundred workshops all around the country and compiling volumes of recommendations no serious attempts to implement those were made anywhere in the country. And meagre funds were made available for implementing those recommendations. It is a pity that we always try to opt for the easiest path – the shortcut- ‘kill them all’.
The time is ripe to recommend implementing measures already known to solve the problem of crop raiding. Some states are successfully using solar power fences to effectively control crop raiding. The time is to promote such a measure by providing villagers with subsidized power fences and training for their maintenance and upkeep. Indigenous research and experiments on the use of contraceptives and sterilization to control the population of monkeys, langurs, and stray dogs and the population of blue bulls and blackbucks residing around villages and farmlands should be launched zealously instead of recommending an easy and unjustified option of killing hapless animals who are the victims of human being’s expansionist and marauding tendencies.
Managing tigers in and around human-dominated areas
With the kind of situation building up in several areas of the country (more tigers visible outside than within PAs as human development is making inroads into their habitats), the strategy of capturing and/or killing tigers will not succeed. Every now and then a tiger will be either killed or captured, therefore, there has to be a well thought of protocol to deal with tigers in a human-dominated landscape. One has to understand the issue first -what is making these tigers impatient with humans? I fully understand that an aberrant animal must be eliminated for the good of other congenerics as well as humans, but then how one would conclude which animal is totally beyond redemption?
Considering the fact that ‘NOT’ every attack by a wild animal is a sign of aberration, may I suggest applying the same principle of Jurisprudence to them as applied to human beings? Establish the offence through undeniable evidence. Every case of attack and human death by wild animals must be investigated thoroughly to establish the identity, and understand the circumstances and behaviour of the animal as well as of the victim before drawing any conclusions – whether the animal is actually a man-eater or not. In many cases even the identity of the animal is mistaken. Therefore, a thorough investigation is mandatory to avoid losing a large number of innocent animals.
The argument against tigers is that they are dangerous animals because they kill people. I wonder, are they dangerous? I think roads and vehicle drivers are a thousand times more dangerous than the poor tiger. On average 155000 people die on roads in India (425 people per day). While the tigers kill around 100 people in a year largely in self-defence when threatened or disturbed. Only a few become man-eaters but that is an aberration, not the rule. We too have serial killers and that does not make all humans monsters. Any tiger that has been proven guilty after a thorough investigation must be punished but others who are not guilty should not be made scapegoats. Unfortunately, despite the protocol, there are no sincere investigations as there is always a hurry to declare innocent tigers guilty of murder.
After more than 16 years of Project Tiger, India achieved the maximum number of tigers in 1989- the estimated population then was 4334. There was no advocacy to permit trophy hunting, then. After that, the tiger population was on a downslide once again, and by 2005, tigers vanished from Sariska and in 2009 from Panna. The all-India tiger estimation done by WII in 2006 reported just 1411 (1165-1657) tigers in India. What caused the decline is known to all – unbridled poaching all over the country orchestrated by an organized mafia, severe loss and fragmentation of tiger habitats, and ecologically unsound or indifferent development projects took a toll on the wild habitats and corridors and the growing cities began eating up the forests, thus tigers are a common sight in the cities that have a nearby natal area where tigers still breed (e.g. Chandrapur in Maharashtra and Kerwa-Kathotiya, near Bhopal city). The current number of tigers (3167), declared a few weeks ago, does not present us with a great occasion to celebrate and become complacent. Just a little slackness in protection will take the tigers back to square one.
In the current times, the number of tigers has gone up in select tiger reserves in some tiger-bearing states, where zealous efforts have been made to control poaching and secure tiger habitats. There is also a focus on protecting tigers and their habitats beyond the tiger reserve boundaries in territorial forests. Madhya Pradesh has created a separate budget head for protecting and managing wildlife beyond protected areas. Systematic relocation of villages from core critical habitats in tiger reserves to create inviolate spaces where tigers can breed, helped tigresses to litter and raise cubs within the secure reserve’s boundaries undisturbed. The young and old tigers dispersing from the natal areas soon reach human habitations as the cities and villages have expanded eating into the forests and thus the war begins, the tiger does not vote so no one is on its side. If the absurd idea of killing tigers on the first excuse is implemented within six months the government will be forced to set up Tiger Task Force III.
This is the time for us to introspect and find out whether we have been making tigers victims of human greed and apathy, mismanagement, and myopic thinking of our race. We torment and pester the animals, rob them of their habitats; pursue them relentlessly without giving these dispersing tigers a chance to settle down in some suitable habitat. Now is the time to do some solid work instead of hiding behind court orders and finding shortcut solutions.
Where the tigers may be rehabilitated
My Recommendation –As many notified tiger reserves in the country are bereft of tigers or inhabited by an unviable population of tigers there is ample scope for intra and inter-state relocation of tigers. Besides many states still have enough usable tiger habitats, these areas need to be mapped and secured by notifying them as any category of PA acceptable to the local people and translocating adequate prey species from some tiger reserves and farmlands. In M.P. there are total undisturbed huge habitats (645 sq. Km) like the proposed Onkareshwar national park and areas like Lagur in Blaghat, besides several areas that have been recently identified and mapped using GIS technology.
So, there are adequate habitats where tigers roaming in hostile areas may be rehabilitated. M.P. has also been proactive in making territorial forest officers responsible for wildlife in their respective jurisdictions. From the range officers to the CCFs all are notified wildlife wardens for their respective areas. The state has also created a separate budget head for wildlife management outside protected areas. The state government has made provision for an annual review of all forest circles to assess their contribution to wildlife management. In a proactive state like M.P. vigorously campaigning for killing tigers and other wild animals is totally out of place.
As far as the elimination of problem animals (Crop-raiders and human eaters) is concerned the law already has provision to deal with it, therefore, adding the words –“Sustainable use’ in the Recommendation No. 5 is clearly a veiled attempt to introduce trophy hunting. Section 11 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act ordains upon the CWLW to satisfy himself fully that the animal in question is either a proven danger to human beings/their property (obviously after thorough investigation) or disabled or diseased beyond recovery). Hence, the law is clearly against trigger-happy trophy hunters. Our culture and ethos do not permit unjust hunting, all the scriptures support the killing of animals only for food and not for pleasure. Trophy hunting is unacceptable where an animal is killed just to experience an adrenalin rush.
The use of the term ‘Sustainable Use’ in the recommendation is a stratagem.
Some elements are active to ensure that the Wildlife of this country also gets destroyed. Tell me a method that one may deploy to calculate the sustained yield of a wild species in a free-ranging situation. It can only be done only in a closed (FENCED) system. A fenced area also makes it easy to plan and execute a custom-made experience for $-spending bloodthirsty clients. That is why the proponents of trophy hunting and sustainable use are advocating fencing the PAs. Now even when the phrase – ‘Trophy hunting’ is dropped, the use of the phrase -‘Sustainable use’ is, actually a subterfuge to befool others.
Therefore, I strongly urged that the phrase ‘Sustainable use’ be restricted to non-consumptive use only such as sustainable Ecotourism and the organisers must remove the words- ‘Sustainable Use of wild animals from all the recommendations wherever it is mentioned.
As far as the removal of scheduled wild animals/wildlife for managing exigencies is concerned the WL (P) Act has several provisions already under Sections 11,12, and 29 and there is also the power to declare a species vermin under Section 62, what more is needed. For the removal and use of scheduled plants, there is already a conditional provision in The Wildlife (P) Act.
The author, Suhas Kumar, who retired as Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, has spent almost 25 years managing, supervising, and guiding the management and training of officers and staff of national parks, sanctuaries, and tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh. He is a trained wildlife manager, a law graduate, and holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Ecology discipline in the field of ecotourism in protected areas. He has also acquired some knowledge and training in nature interpretation and ecotourism from the US, the UK, and Australia. He is a member of WWF-India’s State Advisory Board for Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the Governing Body and Governing Council of National Centre for Human Settlement and Environment, Bhopal. He is also a member of the Delhi Biodiversity Society. Earlier, he had served as the chairman of the Research Advisory Committee of the M.P. State Biodiversity Development Board and member of Madhya Pradesh State Board for Wildlife for two terms. He was the chairman of one of the evaluation teams constituted by NTCA in 2017-18 for 13 tiger reserves of the country.