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Editorial Today – The culling fields

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Issue The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recently permitted three States, Uttarakhand, Bihar, and Himachal Pradesh, to declare earlier protected wild animal species as “vermin”.

Who can declare an animal as vermin? Section 62 of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972.

What is wildlife culling? Selective killing of a species.

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.

Which animal has been declared as vermin? Nilgai antelope in Bihar and Maharashtra, the rhesus macaque in Himachal Pradesh, wild boar in Uttarakhand.

Whether it is right to kill wildlife that damage crops? No reliable estimates of economic loss nationwide are available.

Effective conflict management Field research by wildlife scientists suggests multiple solutions.

Why wildlife species causing crop damage were listed for culling? The only factoid presented by Inspector General Wildlife is that over 500 people were killed by animals across India last year.

Proactive measures that can be taken to ensure human safety Deploying animal early warning systems, providing timely public information on presence and movements of species such as elephants to local people.

When Crop damage by wildlife can occur? Crop damage by wildlife may occur when animals enter crop fields because of habitat alteration and fragmentation.

How this problem can be tackled Research reveals that a small proportion of villages in the landscape may be conflict “hotspots”.

How government scheme can be utilised to tackle this? Crop insurance for wildlife damage.

Bad effects of culling Removal of individual animals detracts from needed investments in location and amenities.

Conclusion

 

Issue

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recently permitted three States, Uttarakhand, Bihar, and Himachal Pradesh, to declare earlier protected wild animal species as “vermin” under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, thereby allowing private shooters and others to kill these species with few safeguards and no risk of prosecution.

 

Who can declare an animal as vermin?

  • Powers conferred by Section 62 of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 allows the central government to declare certain animals as vermin and allow their killing.

 

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.

 

Which animal has been declared as vermin?

  • The species — nilgai antelope in Bihar and Maharashtra, the rhesus macaque in Himachal Pradesh, wild boar in Uttarakhand and wild pig in all States except Himachal Pradesh — were listed for culling because the animals, whose populations are allegedly increasing, damage crops.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Why wildlife species causing crop damage were listed for culling?

  • The only factoid presented by Inspector General Wildlife is that over 500 people were killed by animals across India last year.
  • But experts criticized it by arguing that human injuries and deaths due to wildlife is a serious issue, but recent studies show that a large proportion are a result of accidental encounters with species such as elephants and bears. Government figures report that around 400 human deaths a year are due to elephants. Conflating such human deaths with crop damage by very different wild animals implies connecting an extreme response such as killing nilgai in Bihar through an unjustified comparison with human deaths due to other wild animals nationwide.

 

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.

 

When Crop damage by wildlife can occur?

  • Crop damage by wildlife may occur when animals enter crop fields because of habitat alteration and fragmentation (by mining or infrastructure projects, for example), because crops are edible, or because the fields lie along movement routes to forest patches or water sources.

 

How this problem can be tackled

  • Research reveals that a small proportion of villages in the landscape may be conflict “hotspots” and, additionally, peripheral fields may be more vulnerable than central ones.
  • Such site-specific scientific information 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.
  • Conservationists today also use modern technology such as mobile phones for SMS alerts, customised apps, automated wildlife detection and warning systems, and participatory measures for wildlife tracking and rapid response to monitor and reduce conflicts, save crops, property, and human lives.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Conclusion

  • 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.
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  • georgian

    thanks forum

  • JEEVAN BALASO CHAVAN

    so simply explained

  • comprehensive !!!

  • Gajendra Singh

    Amazing… life is easy now?

  • kingka2

    Thanks for the article..!