Declaring wild animals as vermin: Right or wrong?
The Centre approved the culling of wild animals such as nilgai and wild boar in Bihar and rhesus monkey in Himachal Pradesh by declaring them ‘vermin’, under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, in December 2015, following requests from the respective States as they cause harm to the resident population.
How an animal can be declared as vermin?
- As per Section 62 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, States can send a list of wild animals to the Centre requesting it to declare them vermin for selective slaughter.
- The Central Government may by notification, declare any wild animal other than those specified in Schedule I and part 11 of Schedule H of the law to be vermin for any area for a given period of time.
- As long as the notification is in force such wild animal shall be included in Schedule V of the law, depriving them of any protection under that law.
Effects of declaration
- This reprieve means that those who kill these animals here will, for a year after these notifications come into effect, not be subject to 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.
What is wildlife culling?
- Culling is basically selective killing of a species, usually as a population control measure. Though in animal breeding, it is known as the process of removing or segregating animals from a breeding stock based on criteria like immunity, disease, etc.
Why is culling carried out?
- Animals that are believed to be harmful to crops, or which carry diseases are tagged as ‘vermin’ and their culling is allowed for a certain period.
- India, for example, has often culled lakhs of chickens after a bird flu outbreak. Declaration of an animal as vermin under the Wildlife Protection Act allows the state forest departments to permit citizens in the affected areas to selectively kill the animal.
Whether it is right to kill wildlife that damage crops?
- In parts of India, wildlife species such as wild pig, elephants, macaques, and nilgai occasionally damage crops or property. No reliable estimates of economic loss nationwide are available, but a number — almost certainly an underestimate of real and opportunity costs to farmers and property owners — of Rs.200 to Rs.400 crore has been quoted in media reports.
- These economic losses can be serious and crippling for individual poor farmers and thus deserve urgent attention.
Why only animals are not the cause of problem:-
There are many reasons behind the problems that have been occurring due to encroachment of animals in the agricultural fields:-
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:It is a very common scene at many places that tourists or other people out of religious beliefs or any other reason start to feed the animals like monkeys, it makes them habitual of finding food through human and they even start to snatch or chase the people in want of food.
Animals are bound to stray into human territory when forested areas – which are their prey base – are destroyed and corridors of their natural movement are encroached upon.
Human actions have ensured that carnivores like jackals and wolves that were not uncommon near villages even two decades ago are missing today.
And in the absence of these carnivores, population of herbivores is increasing, and we now want to use the pretext of their absence (lack of natural population control measures) to remove the herbivores from these landscapes.
Bad effects of culling
- Focussing efforts on removal of individual animals detracts from needed investments in location and amenities, leaving local people no better off in standards of living or ability to cope with or respond to future interactions with wildlife.
- When shooters from other States kill wildlife with high-powered rifles and leave, they also leave local people and forest staff no better prepared, trained, or empowered to deal with likely future wildlife intrusions.
Effective conflict management
Field research by wildlife scientists suggests multiple solutions
- Culling (killing) or removal of “conflict” wildlife, often labelled “problem animals”, is one among a suite of possible interventions recommended by conservation scientists and managers.
- But unfortunately, removal through capture or killing may not prevent recurrence of conflicts and may even exacerbate them. For example Himachal Pradesh killed hundreds of rhesus macaques in 2007 (with conflicts recurring within two years), sterilised over 96,000 macaques since 2007 (while conflicts continued to increase).
- A better approach to conflict management requires integration of scientific evidence, ecology and behaviour of particular species, and landscape and socio-economic context.
Proactive measures that can be taken to ensure human safety
- If human safety was the chief concern it is more appropriate to first adopt measures to reduce human injuries and fatalities due to wildlife.
- Effective measures for this 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, and 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, while better garbage disposal and avoiding deliberate or accidental feeding of animals reduces risks associated with wild animals like monkeys.
How government scheme can be utilised to tackle this?
- Crop insurance for wildlife damage, which the Environment Ministry recently recommended be included in the National Crop/Agricultural Insurance Programme, also deserves trial.
- An insurance approach recognises wildlife as a part of the shared countryside and as a risk to be offset rather than viewing wildlife as antagonists belonging to the State that one wishes away.
- Merely removing “problem animals” will not make “problem locations” disappear.
- Servicing human needs, enhancing local amenities, and adopting science-based and sustained interventions will provide more lasting solutions.
- A moratorium on culling will thus help redirect attention to where it is really needed and be in the best long-term interests of people and wildlife.