Culling populism

By: Sulagna Chattopadhyay
Expert Column

Culling Populism

The inconvenience of being human is enormous. We need lands to cultivate, homes to live, heating and cooling systems, roads and cars, factories and industries, not to mention overflowing coffers. If only our requirements were merely food, water and air, culling would have seemed preposterous and unnecessary – a waste to say the least.

Being human, life is not simple. What has been perpetuated for years, aristocrats and kings hunting for sport, devastating firepower abetting the wildlife atrocities of trigger happy colonial masters cannot be reverted from the mindsets of new age kings – the populist leaders. From rough estimates of over 40,000 tigers a century ago, by 1972 there were only approximately 1800 tigers left. An apex species was on the verge of being wiped out, before good sense prevailed and conservation efforts commenced, bequeathing thousands of crores of taxpayers’ money. The culling rhetoric of the present emits chilling echoes of the past – where collective memory may be spotlighted towards the late nineteenth century US, that believed that the bison was a vermin that needed to be culled for mechanized expansion of agriculture, leading to mass killing of over 25-30 million bisons. Pictures of the carnage are a disturbing sight indeed.

But, is being human also not about compassion, love, unity and most importantly, sustainability. For a nation that is like a beacon to the world – its vegetarianism, nature worship, and peaceful co-existence with wildlife in its backyard, an outcome of generations of nurturing the spirit of live and let live, culling seems like a dastardly slap on the face. The killings have already begun – culling of rhesus macaque (a species of monkey) in Himachal, shooting of nilgais in Bihar, and of course one can barely forget the killing of thousands of stray dogs in Kerala, and what good it did. Why is there such sudden urgency to destroy and dent our fabric of tolerance repeatedly?

If the argument is based on the extent of crop damage, number of attacks and loss of lives as parameters to declare wild boars, monkeys and nilgais as vermin and justify culling them, there is something seriously amiss. One only needs to compare statistics of nilgai, boar or monkey conflicts to elephant rampage to see the truth behind it. Perhaps we should start considering culling of haloed wild elephants – they are far more ‘dangerous’ as far as the limited data goes. Moreover, Shakespearean grandiloquence apart, a nilgai is but a nilgai – give or take a few ‘rojads’, so very unimaginatively renamed. By that logic, the Madhya Pradesh government should also consider renaming the ‘goumata’ to de-stigmatize its killing.

Experts suggest that restoring wild habitats should be accorded due priority to avoid man-animal conflict. In villages that border reserve areas, investments such as creating physical barriers (solar fencing) is imperative, although its efficacy may be called to question. Crop adaptation and innovative methods to prevent crop destruction along with the use of bio-pesticides for preventing nilgai conflict needs to be bolstered in a holistic manner. The forest department has already been compensating forest dwellers through relief schemes, which help build the confidence of the victims.

For conflicts that arise in cities however, we need mitigative plans that consider the cityscape. There is an urgent need to educate people about how to react to dogs or monkeys when confronted. Most of urban conflicts arise from perceived threats and irrational fears, complicating the situation further. If we can learn to defend ourselves without harming the animals, it would be a battle of wits well fought, considering that humans excel on that front.

Why, I wonder, are we not thinking of newer and more out-of -box solutions in place of blood lust? Say for example, if we were to collect all the battered, puckered and otherwise useless fruits and vegetables for human consumption from markets and mandis, designate feeding areas and service these hapless creatures. Likewise, if the forest departments could work together to enrich the forests with fruit trees and fodder for creatures big and small, the conflicts may just as well disappear. With targeted sterilization drives and furnishing of much needed scientific data on every species that call the earth under the scorched skies of tropical India a home, we may just as well reach the zenith of ‘peaceful co-existence’.

The populist agenda is thus all that remains. The government generously yields to the demands of appeals from the grassroots, as the mute ‘vermin’ stand testimony to the cruelty that is called ‘man’.

The lust to kill is akin to lust for power – the god-like headiness is addictive.



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