Kriti Soni

Jun 16, 2020

5 min read

Permitted Hunting in India

Recently, the news of the death of a pregnant elephant after consuming a firecracker stuffed pineapple went viral. The mode of death was undoubtedly barbaric but a material piece of information was conveniently left out in the clickbait-y headlines circulated on social media. The poison was intended to be administered to wild boars. Poisoning by stuffing non-edible items in food articles is a practice commonly followed to deter animals from attacking crops. The facts of the case are not very relevant to this article but this incident should draw our attention towards permitted hunting, illegal means of doing so and our apathy towards wildlife conservation.

The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, permits hunting in certain instances- broadly speaking, in cases of loss of life and property. The threshold for granting such permit is highest for Schedule I animals (’mammals’) and reduces to practically zero for the ones in Schedule V (’vermin’). Vermin do not enjoy any protection under the Act; they can be killed without having any legal consequences. In case of other animals, categorised under Schedules I to IV, the Chief Wildlife Warden (‘CWW’) (a forest official appointed by each State) has non-delegable powers to allow hunting. Exercise of this power is subject to failure of other options like tranquillising, translocating and rehabilitating. So, the Act intends to favour harmonious coexistence rather than mindless slaughter.

There are two ways to legally hunt animals causing damage to property, scientifically referred to as ’higher vertebrate pests’. Animals such as monkeys, nilgais, wild boars, blackbucks etc are examples of such pests. The first is for the CWW to grant permission to kill based on a representation made by the ground-level officials. The second is for the Central Government to declare such pests as vermin. As noted above, in the case of former, any violation of order with respect to the mode of killing can attract penal consequences. This is totally absent once a declaration has been made by the Central Government.

The problem with this method is that the absence of a proper policy for declaration of higher vertebrate pests as vermin and their subsequent hunting causes a serious threat to the wildlife conservation efforts as a whole. The above-mentioned incident of elephant death is a case in point.

Since last few years the mode of the declaration is being preferred over seeking a case by case hunting permission. The Centre has declared nilgai, rhesus monkey and wild boar as vermin in different states such as Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Telangana. The kind of backlash we see now towards the killing of elephant was practically absent a year ago when the West Bengal Government had sought the Centre’s permission to declare even elephants as vermin! Such permission would have given an unbridled right to the officials to legally cull them and an unchecked right to the common folk to kill.

The National Wildlife Action Plan (2017–2031) published by Wildlife Institute of India, dedicated a section to the ’mitigation of human-wildlife conflict’. Such conflicts are on the rise due to growing urbanisation and fragmentation of natural habitats. The report advocates for a scientific approach towards legal hunting. Actions such as the creation of a database, drawing up a science-based and region-based comprehensive plan, training forest officials and conducting awareness programs etc. are recommended. This is hardly ever followed. Additionally, the absence of a properly staffed and equipped forest department and lack of community engagement makes the monitoring of any lapses very difficult.

The lack of a scientific approach and requirements is a huge threat to the population of all animals (not just the animals sought to be eliminated). The rules and the notifications issued by the State usually provides for either killing by shooting or by culling. Both these methods have proved to be ineffective and sometimes dangerous for other animals. Farmers are not trained shooters. This is why they often resort to illegal means like the use of poison and snares to protect their land. Unsurprisingly, it causes harm to other animals as well. For instance, while attempting to control rising cases of higher vertebrate pest attack, Kerala had reported death of not only wild boars (declared as vermin) but also of elephants, jackals and other small mammals. Another unintended consequence of reckless declaration is a rise in poaching and unnecessary killing of trouble-making vermin. An example of this is that in 2016, following one such declaration, 200 nilgais were slaughtered in Bihar within 6 days!

This unscientific approach should be replaced to the extent possible with the use of traditional knowledge to tackle human-wildlife conflicts through local government. The way Rajasamand farmers dealt with nilgai should serve as a model. The farmers studied the behaviour of nilgai and developed various measures- like change in cropping pattern, use of shining material, scarecrow, acoustics and animal excreta — to tackle the menace of nilgai destroying crops. In some areas, the use of technology has proved to be very effective. For instance, Valaparai district (Tamil Nadu) adopted the use of SMS to increase community engagement while dealing with elephants. The idea was to decrease the responsive time of forest officials thereby, building the trust of the community in the State officials. Similarly, Telangana is developing the technology of bioacoustics with the help of Tollywood sound engineers. Other cost-effective means like the use of barrier crops, human hair as a respiratory deterrent, fixing coloured sarees to create an illusion of human presence, use of egg solutions, de-branching are recommended by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research.

State-sponsored killing for human convenience by legal or illegal means may be an easy way out but surely it will harm ecological security of the country in the long run. Culling of the dwindling population of monkeys in Himachal Pradesh illustrates this and widely publicised death of a pregnant elephant has brought it to our attention more poignantly. We must instead focus on building our already rich traditional knowledge system to achieve a balance. Putting a stop to the retributive killing of animals by coordinating the efforts among research organisations, forest officials, the local governments and the community in general is the need of the hour.