Why Culling ‘Vermin’ Species Is Counter-Intuitive
Human-wildlife conflict is a serious matter, especially when it comes to crop depredation by wild herbivores. While it is absolutely essential to create and implement conflict mitigation strategies, the current manner in which state governments, with the support of the Centre, are dealing with the problem is both unscientific and dangerous.
Photo: Vivek Sinha.
Over the past few months, several states have received approval to declare certain wild species as vermin in order to allow for their culling. For example, rhesus macaques (species of monkey) are on the list of animals allowed to be killed in Himachal Pradesh and nilgai or blue bull and wild boar in Bihar, to name a few. In states like Telangana, individuals no longer even require permission from the concerned forest department to kill wild boar. Wild elephants and peacocks also make the ‘vermin’ list in some states.
This blanket policy of indiscriminate killing of 'problem' animals allows much room for misuse. Culling wildlife without a proper understanding of the ground situation, a lack of clarity on necessary protocols and permissions, and inept monitoring and regulation, will have dire consequences on an area's ecological balance. Wild ungulates make up a significant proportion of the prey base of apex predators like the tiger and leopards, outside Protected Areas ( PAs). If populations of these herbivores are reduced, it stands to reason that domestic livestock will be the alternate choice of dispersing predators and those that live in buffers and corridors.
Additionally, if individuals are encouraged to take up trapping or poisoning of 'vermin' species we can be sure that collateral damage will take place of other species, such as crows, mongoose, deer and wild pig. In some states, individuals have taken to glorifying the role of shikaris. A case in point is the November 2015 incident where social media images of the Katol constituency MLA, Ashish Deshmukh posing with the carcass of a nilgai, with a gun proudly displayed, went viral online.
Maneka Gandhi recently lashed out at the Union Minister of Environment after the recent gunning down of about 200 nilgai in Bihar and about 40 wild boar in Chandrapur by ‘appointed’, ‘professional’ sharp shooters in the name of vermin killing.
To reiterate, it is imperative that we redress the genuine problem of crop depredation, but 'quick-fix' solutions will merely aggravate human-animal conflict. The potential of non-invasive conflict mitigation measures need to be explored; suitable compensation to farmers whose crops are raided should be ensured, and regulations to safeguard the exploitation of wildlife through hunting in the name of culling should be instated.
By policy direction, each state should necessarily work with a team of field biologists and scientists to strategise and formulate customised guidelines on conflict mitigation. Over the decades Indian scientists, conservationists and researchers have established enviable reputations in the global community for on-ground conservation based on hard science.
We believe it should be possible for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to provide the necessary leadership so the myriad problems of human-wildlife conflict can be mitigated, or reduced, without blindly following "kill and solve" practices that have been borrowed from nations that should in fact take their cue from India on how to live with nature and wild species.
Read Bittu Sahgal’s letter to Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
Read more: Sentient Beings or Shooting Targets by Nimesh Ved