The government has proposed an amended Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA) and called on the public to respond. So now is the time for us to demand an overhaul of our flawed wildlife protection regime which has precipitated huge human-wildlife conflict across India. Under the WLPA, people are not free to defend themselves against marauding animals, as even chasing them from their homes and fields requires official permission. Yet the Indian Penal Code, Sections 100 and 103, criminalizes willfully causing death or other harm to the tortfeasor if: 1) an assault by the tortfeasor may reasonably be feared that the death or a serious injury is the result; 2) If the offense involves the wrongdoer committing trespass to home or property or robbery. Wild animals attack people, kill them and damage their property, and a senior police officer and a High Court judge have told me that the WLPA is constitutionally invalid.
No other country has such a senseless act and prohibits hunting outside national parks, wildlife sanctuaries or game reserves. Hunting of certain endangered species like wolves may be banned everywhere, but even that is actively encouraged with a bounty in the state of Alaska. Britain has shooting ranges where up to 12,300 wild mammals and birds are killed every day. The British and Americans slaughter elephants, lions and impalas on hunting ranches in Africa to win thousands of trophies.
There is an intrinsic tendency for animal numbers to increase unless controlled by factors such as predation, disease, limitation of resources such as food or nests, and incidental mortality such as floods or landslides. Humans have played a dominant role in controlling wildlife populations since their origin three years ago as pack hunters in the savannahs of Africa. Indeed, hunting, whether for trophies or for the pot that the WLPA criminalizes, is part of human heritage. Today, many Africans hunt bushmeat and Swedes hunt moose for food.
Hunting had continued in India until the enactment of the WLPA in 1972, with the Maharajas minting money inviting European tourists to hunt as guests in their own game reserves. Naturally, with the total cessation of hunting in India, the number of wildlife has exploded over the past 50 years and intelligent animals have learned not to fear humans. It is true that their habitat has been encroached, especially by urbanization, highways, railways and mining, but even in cases where it is well maintained as in the reserves of Pench, Tadoba and Mudumalai, tigers are spreading now and killing people. Thus, over a thousand people are killed by wild animals like elephants, panthers, tigers and sloth bears while tens of thousands are injured every year in India. Losses to crops and assets run into the thousands of crores. This is a rough estimate since the details are shrouded in a veil of obscuration.
Manipulation of data by forestry departments to hide corruption while blaming people was starkly evident in the case of the Sariska Tiger Reserve where these big cats had not been sighted since 1999. But the Forest department bosses said there were still 17 tigers in Sariska. even in 2004. In response, the CBI undertook a two-month investigation and declared that there were no more tigers left in the reserve. Poaching has been blamed for the disappearance of the tigers. But who were the poachers? The CBI concluded that forestry officials were undoubtedly involved. The skinned carcasses of the tigers were left stinky for days. It is impossible that the officials did not notice all these carcasses and they were surely involved in the poaching racket. On the ground, all that happened was that the foresters rounded up and beat many people from the surrounding villages accusing them of being poachers, and, of course, no bureaucrat was ever held to account. responsible.
Indeed, the use of the weapon of the WLPA, a tyrannical regime controlled by the forest departments, has taken hold throughout our country. This oppression is counterproductive and has led India to sink in the world rankings to 177 out of 180 in environmental performance and 139 out of 149 in happiness. We must therefore take the example of the Swedes who declare that wildlife is a renewable resource that must be managed by regulated hunting involving decentralized decision-making by empowering local actors. India is a pluralistic country with a diversity of cultures and livelihoods coupled with a variety of dietary habits and taboos. Today, certain groups of Indians eat not only goat and chicken, but also dogs and monkeys, and no one has the right to impose their own food preferences on other citizens of the country. Our grassroots people are motivated to protect the environment and have many conservation traditions still alive. Ensuring that they can play their rightful role in our democracy is the challenge before us. If wild animals are taken out of national parks, sanctuaries and forest reserves, people from the local agencies concerned should have the right either to demand payment for tolerating them or to slaughter them and use the various body products as they want it. They may want to eat wild pig meat and establish a cottage industry to make hairbrushes from pig hair. They may wish to protect apes as sacred animals and require payment for conservation services; alternatively, they can slaughter monkeys, hygienically package their meat and sell it to Chinese or Africans. They may decide to make a lot of money by selling the tiger skin or its head as trophies, or ivory or elephant head trophies to Americans where they are in demand. What our country desperately needs is a game full of reason, common sense and tolerance.
Prominent ecologist who led the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Group