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Elephants raiding a banana plantation near Bannerghatta, Karnataka

Nishanth Srinivasaiah

Debate: Is the ongoing culling of wild animals necessary?

The Centre has endorsed various states’ move to list wild animals – elephants in Bengal, monkeys in Uttarakhand, peacocks in Goa and nilgai in Bihar – as ‘vermin’, allowing them to be culled. With human-animal conflict once again in under the lens, we present a selection of articles that examine both sides of the story.

Culling debate: Government data showed crop damage because of animals fell 33% from 2010 to 2012
Shreya Mittal, IndiaSpend.com
As two senior Indian ministers tussle over the declaration of some wild animals as “vermin” – thereby allowing their culling – the damage to crops from animal attacks declined 33% over two years, 2010 to 2012, according to this August 2014 answer given to the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament). The extent of crop damage due to animal incursions across India declined from 29,989 hectares in 2010 to 19,962 hectares in 2012, according to information provided by the government. Crops damaged in 2012 covered 81 sq km, equivalent to an area roughly a fourth the size of Surat.

Enemies of the States?
Multiple authors, The Hindu
Conservationists and activists say that merely declaring certain animals as ‘vermin’ isn’t a solution because this conflict — between the foraging habits of animals and destruction of cash and food crops of farmers — is due to reasons including receding forests and herbivores proliferating because of fewer preying carnivores. Besides, does the state know when to stop culling? How many, before we say enough?

The culling fields
T.R. SHankar Raman, The Hindu
Field research by wildlife scientists in diverse landscape contexts, on different wildlife species and kinds of human-wildlife interactions, including “conflicts”, 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. Unfortunately, removal through capture or killing may not prevent recurrence of conflicts and may even exacerbate them.

Shooting Nilgai Raises Questions of Ethics, and Efficiency
Neha Sinha, The Wire
The culling of animals is one major issue on which the global environmental movements of animal rights and wildlife conservation diverge. The first focuses on individual life while the latter is about sustaining wild animal populations, even if that means the culling or removal of individual animals. The case of Ranthambhore’s tiger Ustad (moved from Ranthambhore to a zoo on charges of man-eating) was a case in point of these two ideologies diverging. The animal rights lobby wanted Ustad to be free while wildlife conservationists argued that Ustad, who had become unpopular with forest guards, should be captured for the sake of the sustaining the tiger population in Ranthambhore. But the new orders have wildlife conservationists up in arms, who say the orders are sweeping and encourage random killing.

Culling controversy: Can’t take away the farmer’s right to life and livelihood
Jay Mazoomdaar, The Indian Express
Many believe that culling is unnecessary because we can prevent crop-raiding by adopting non-invasive measures. It’s a misconception. Fencing fields merely shifts conflict to the next accessible cropland. Used extensively, it creates an enclosure for wildlife. Even selection of crops that traditionally repelled animals does not seem to work any longer. Ask the farmers in Sirmour how monkeys raid their garlic fields that they avoided till recently. Another popular misconception is that herbivores raid crops only because they have little to eat inside forests which they are losing to human encroachment. No doubt every wild patch needs protection but wildlife in fringe forests will always be attracted by the more nutritious fare available outside.

The debate over the culling of wildlife in India requires more than just sound and fury
Nimesh Ved
While the intensity and nature of this conflict varies from landscape to landscape, the bottomline is that famers are indeed suffering from damage caused by wildlife. However, farmers want a solution to the problem, and haven’t specifically asked for culling. As no other alternatives have been put forth, culling seems to be the easiest, or the only, option. India’s decision makers and influencers (including conservationists and researchers) have failed to come up with a policy to address this man-animal conflict in the long run or suggest models that could be tried out in the short term.

A Case for Animals against Executive Culling
Arun Joshi, Kafila
Construing the actions of an individual, irrespective of their arbitrariness, risks confusing the symptom for the disease. Today, Mr. Javadekar’s actions are based on an ill-informed interpretation of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The Act stipulates the protection of all wild species, barring vermin. By definition, vermin include common crows, fruit bats, mice and rats. A notable exception is made when there is a direct threat to human life by wild animals, and it requires immediate intervention. Apart from these, arguably, justified reasons, the Ministry is disallowed from ordering culling of any other animal. Unfortunately, Mr. Javadekar has bypassed the existing framework, by opting to declare an entire species as vermin – the convenient route out of planned and strategized animal management.

Human-Elephant Conflict and its Mitigation: Q&A with Sanjay Gubbi (2011 interview)
Conservation India
Q: So, how do we stop human–elephant conflict? Is there any hope?
A: There is no way we can bring conflict down to zero. What we need to aim for is to bring it down to tolerable limits. The solution lies in constant maintenance of physical barriers which should be installed in co-operation with affected farmers. We need specially trained conflict mitigation staff who will be located in every elephant-bearing forest division. This administrative range would address only conflict issues such as maintenance of barriers, dealing with compensation, interacting with affected farmers; they should not be given the responsibility of regular patrolling or other tasks. More importantly, protected area managers should stop refashioning elephant habitats by artificially augmenting water resources. Let us not forget that water and food resources are great natural controllers of elephant populations.

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