Human-Animal conflict is a matter of social, economic and ecological concern throughout the world. With increasing demographic pressures, limited land availability, rapid urbanization and excessive deforestation, humans and animals have been encroaching and entering each others geographical domains. This is disruptive of ecological balance and increases the incidents of counter-conflict.
Ecologically diverse states of India have always grappled with the issues of animals destructing crops and attacking humans and livestock. This conflict has increased due to the mismanagement of forests and wildlife, and the sheer neglect of the concerned authorities to understand the root problem.
India’s wildlife law has always been under limelight for lack of clarity on various clauses. But Section 62 of the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972 is quite clear on providing the Central government the power to declare any wild animal, other than those specified in Schedule I and part 11 of Schedule H, to be vermin for a particular period of time.
Exercising its power as per section 62 of the WPA, recently the Central government has declared wild boar, rhesus macaques (monkeys) and nilgai as vermin in Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar. This is upon request by the respective governments in these states. The Central government is still reviewing the applications of Maharashtra and Gujarat to respectively declare peacock (protected under Schedule I) and nilgai as vermin in these States.
Monkeys, wild boars and nilgai are a protected species under Schedule II and III of the WPA respectively, but as per section 62 if any wild animal poses danger to human life or property (including standing crops on any land), or is so disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery, the law allows for its declaring the species as vermin and giving the State the right to kill. Enforcing this provision, these animals have been put under Schedule V, depriving them of legal protection and allowing killing using any weapon including a gun, sword or stick, wire traps, snares and poisoning, without any penalty.
Crop depredation worth rupees several crores has been the main factor used by the government to exercise this law in action. The Supreme Court also supported this decision, as it refused to put stay on the Centre's notification for allowing the culling of vermin/pest like wild boar, rhesus macaques and nilgai in Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar.
The recent turn of events in India with regards to animal culling laws has deeply saddened me personally. I feel the central government notification to allow culling of animals in the three States is unfortunate and is a direct violation of Section 51A of the Indian Constitution. But it is also important to understand that every coin has two sides.
Crop depredation crisis
Hailing from Kullu-Manali and being an orchardist of apple crops, I can confirm that monkeys have started attacking fruit orchards and crop fields. Monkeys have been destroying the fruits and cereal crops in Shimla and its adjoining towns/villages, but this crop-raiding trend has only increased in my hometown since the last few years. This is because of institutional foolhardiness to move the monkeys from high population places to the mountain forests of Kullu that are devoid of fruit trees and other edible crops.
This monkey translocation trend was followed in other Himachal districts but it never solved the problem from the core. Monkeys have the ability to adjust themselves to new habitats. So monkeys bred and increased their population throughout the state, became more aggressive and started ransacking more fruit orchards and farm fields, ultimately spreading conflict throughout Himachal Pradesh. Uttrakhand has also suffered the same consequences for the same reasons with news reports uncovering secret monkey translocation activities from adjoining states like Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
Being an agrarian based economy, Himachal depends on revenues from cash crops. According to the National Institute of Disaster Management, my state has incurred losses of farm produce worth Rs 500 crore annually due to wild animals, including monkeys. Other estimates point out that the state lost crops worth Rs 2,200 crore due to monkeys between 2007 and 2012. This figure of loss is quite high for Himachal Pradesh whose government’s budgetary allocation for agriculture for 2015-16 is just Rs 450 crore.
Jammu and Kashmir has lost crop worth rupees 33 crores due to monkey raids. Uttrakhand has lost crops worth crores due to monkey, wild boar and nilgai attacks but there is no official data. Many farmers have abandoned farming in villages due to increasing crop raiding resulting in huge losses. Similarly, in Bihar the area under crop attack has increased from 19 hectares in 2011 to 90 hectares in 2012. Other estimatespoint around 50,000 farmers affected by monkey crop raids alone in Saharsa district of Bihar.
Is culling a long-term solution?
Looking at the crop loss statistics it is quite evident that wild animals have become a menace in different states. It is important to balance out their population and reduce conflicts. But declaring them as vermin for a limited period and giving the license to kill them is not a good solution.
Many experts have argued that it is important to understand long-term population dynamics of wild animals and understand the real cause behind this situation. We have to look at various factors such as the loss of wildlife corridors and habitations due to deforestation, decrease in the number of wild fruit-bearing tress, falling rates of predator carnivores population resulting in rise of herbivores, and increased incidents of droughts forcing animals to enter farm fields.
Experts also argue that we have to undertake extensive wildlife studies to study the behavior of different animals. For instance, monkeys are territorial, will breed if there is a good food supply, and will easily adapt to new habitations. Certain territories can be highly sought after, and when a monkey is killed, another will take its place, which renders culling ineffective and a waste of resources.
Also the structure of macaque families, as well as wild boar, centre on an alpha male, who has a harem of as many females as he can protect from other males. If a certain amount of monkeys are killed, female macaques naturally become more fecund to give birth to many more monkeys to fill the gap, thereby ruling out the benefits of culling. So more research studies are required to understand animal behavior before passing the inhumane law of culling them, as it can turn out to be highly ineffective. Rather than resorting to culling, the following alternative approaches should be looked into:
Alternative approach to culling
- For tackling the monkey menace, neutering/sterilization of should be spread out even though it has its own challenges. Himachal did start a sterilization campaign in 2007 but due to inadequate efforts by the forest department, the state was only able to neuter 96,500 monkeys in the past eight years. So, as a recommendation the concerned department should take more extensive steps to spread the sterilization campaign and set up more clinics with adequate manpower and resources in the affected districts.
- Non-surgical sterilization methods like oral contraceptives that can be administered through food should be promoted.
- For tackling wild boar and nilgai conflict, government should promote mitigation measures by providing famers with barbed electrical fencing (not fatal for animals) to prevent wild animals from entering the farms.
- Bio-fencing which includes growing of unpalatable crops in agricultural areas bordering forests and maintenance of weed-free foraging grounds along forest edges should be also be promoted.
- To mitigate human-animal conflict, there has to be a check on the type of crops that are planted near the forests or wildlife corridors. State government should identify and ban plantation of certain palatable crops near forests and corridors.
- More wildlife buffer zones and corridors having appropriate amount of wild crop plantations should be created around forests for preventing animals to leave.
- Before translocating animals like monkeys to new areas, there is a need to build planned animal sanctuaries with adequate amount of fruit trees and other plantation in order to make the animal population self-sufficient.
- All in all, there is a need to integrate community participation along with institutional help to take control of the situation. Sensitization of local communities and involving them in the decision making process for mitigating conflicts is proven to be an effective long-term solution.