‘USE IT OR LOSE IT’: THE MANTRA FOR MAN-ANIMAL CO-EXISTENCE*
The paper discusses various aspects of the conflict that prevails between local people and wildlife and suggests that this conflict is the main cause of the decline of wildlife in the 20th century. No species can survive on this planet if it is in conflict or competition with Homo sapiens. The governments, and the conservation lobbies, are trying to preserve wildlife at the cost of the local people. The paper illustrates, with the example of Madhya Pradesh, that the cost of conservation (approximately Rs. 900 crore per annum) is borne by the local people in the form of lost livelihoods (due to lost access), crop (and other properties) losses and livestock (and human) deaths, while the costs incurred by the governments are made good, by the revenues earned by the forest departments from logging and other operations. People can reduce their costs only by killing animals or by helping/ignoring poaching. This undermines the conservation policies directly and the government has no means of getting out of this vicious cycle under the current set of policies and laws.
The only sustainable conservation policy which stands any chance of succeeding must take into account this fundamental conflict between conservation and the local people, and must treat wildlife as an economic resource for the society. The paper discusses various strategies of resolving the conflict, such as compensation, translocation of human and wildlife populations, and wildlife utilisation etc. and suggests that wildlife utilisation, through sport hunting, and using the revenues to compensate the people for their losses, is the only viable solution for long term conservation. Wildlife deserves to be managed as a natural resource, to be nurtured and harvested, rather than being just a holy cow. The author supports his views with illustrations from Pakistan, Africa and USA where sport hunting is successfully helping conservation and benefiting local people. The paper emphasises that the common Indian species, such as wild boar, black buck, spotted deer and nilgai, are a major part of the hunting businesses all over USA, Europe and South America and there is no reason why their economic value should not be harnessed for their own conservation and welfare of the people in India. The author is conscious of the fact that the current law does not permit wildlife management as an economic activity and suggests that we bring the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in tune with the demands of the times.
There is an apparent consensus in the society that wildlife has to be preserved. We take it for granted that the question whether wildlife should be preserved or not is not up for discussion. We believe that preservation of wildlife is uniformly good for all sections of society. We hardly ever go into the inner contradictions of conservation as practiced in India, and may be, in some other countries influenced by Indian policies. A letter written by Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the founder of modern conservation in India, to one Mr. Siraj A. Tahar of Hyderabad on September 11,1982, summarises the contradiction better than any treatise can ever do:
“---------I entirely agree that these treasures of ours must not be allowed to be destroyed. Unfortunately when the question is raised as one between human beings and wildlife, it becomes more complex. We are doing all we can, but it is not easy to persuade the local authorities or the public as a whole.”
It is clear that Mrs. Gandhi was referring to those human beings who are adversely affected by conservation. For them, conservation is an unsolved riddle. They, rightly, fail to comprehend the justification for protecting these dangerous competitors and predators at considerable cost to the society in general and forest dwellers in particular. It is a fact that we have so far evaded the question pointed out by Mrs. Gandhi so long ago. We have not cared to look at the consequences of conservation for those sections of society for whom wildlife is not a remote and romantic entity, but a daily reality and threat. We may be happy celebrating the centenary of a premier park of the country, but our happiness in reality is quite hollow as our happiness is at the cost of millions of poor people
whose crops, cattle, houses, and often their lives and limbs, are destroyed by the very animals we are so righteously and zealously protecting. Protecting wild animals as a part of our effort to preserve our biodiversity, as a natural resource for future generations, is obviously correct but this should be accomplished with minimum pain to current generations of human beings. If any costs are inevitable, the cost should be borne by the entire society equitably, either directly or by compensating those sections of the society who suffer more. If the principle of equity in conservation is ignored, the disadvantaged sections have a moral right to help themselves by undermining conservation, either through direct action or by helping (or ignoring) antisocial elements (poachers). Although we, on the high moral ground of conservation, are convinced that protecting wildlife is in the interest of human beings, we dare not address this question to the forest dwelling communities. The first, and in many cases the only, request people make to anyone daring to discuss their lives is to do something about the animals that cause them tremendous economic hardship, discomfort, and occasionally, loss of life and limb. The real question that we must address is as to whether conservation is worth the sufferings of nearly one fifth of the population of the country! Are the potential benefits of conserving biodiversity, in whose name we are protecting dangerous animals, so great that we are ready to put the lives of such a large number of the people of India at stake? Even if it is necessary to save these animals for the future as genetic reserves, it might be possible to have a few hundred animals in a few walled enclosures, or even as frozen DNA, as seed material for the future. Why let them loose on the hapless poor people in the name of their conservation when less painful options are feasible?
The only ground on which the current conservation strategies (i.e. the conservation of free ranging animals) can be justified is that free ranging animals are a better economic resource than a captive population or a frozen DNA. The economic value of these animals is only in the form of their value to tourists and hunters, the animal products that accrue from them, and the businesses that depend upon them. To justify the current conservation strategy, these values together have to be higher than the cost of their maintenance, which includes the direct costs incurred by the government, the opportunity cost of maintaining their habitats, and the crop losses, and crop protection costs, incurred by the local people. Whereas the cost side of this accounting procedure is undisputed, the only benefits that we draw from these animals is the small number of tourists that some of our protected areas draw. Hunting and the trade in animal products which were the mainstay of the man-animal relationship throughout history have long been outlawed. If conservation is so obviously a losing business, how have we sustained it so far in a poor country like India? We have, apparently, achieved this marvel solely on the strength of the righteous noises, sometimes too shrill to be ignored, about the right of all living beings to exist and procreate, the religious bogey and our recent moral acquisition, non violence. However, even a stronger reason for the survival of modern conservation is that real cost of conservation has been borne, not by the exchequer, but by the poor people, living in the forested landscapes, who have suffered crop losses, incurred huge crop protection costs and lost traditional livelihoods due to restrictions placed on the use of their traditional resources. These costs are never accounted for by the planners and economists while the sufferers are too dumb, illiterate and powerless to make the powers that be take notice of their contribution to conservation. To stretch this argument to its logical conclusion, perhaps India has remained poor primarily because the poorest people have been losing tremendous amounts to conservation. If the poorest peasantry of Madhya Pradesh, had 900 crore Rupees in its pockets every year, rather than losing or spending it on crop protection, the picture of rural MP would have been totally different!
Throughout human history, man and wildlife have had an intimate relationship. In the beginning, man was a food item for big predators and a competitor for herbivores. With the passage of time, and the advent of tools and weapons, man himself became a successful predator and the herbivores became a resource for him. Seasonal or periodic human migrations were dictated by the animal migrations in search of greener pastures or drinking water. An equilibrium was established, perhaps, when man became a cultivator. His crops acted as a powerful lure for wild herbivores, while man was able to snare, trap or shoot them either in the act of feeding or while they hung around his fields. As bulk of the animals still lived far away from human habitation and the hunting methods were simple, and there was little commerce, the number of animals killed was not large enough to endanger their existence. But with the advent of guns, vehicles and trade in wildlife products, the equation got vitiated. The explosion in human population in the 20th century pushed human settlements into the remotest parts of our wilderness, so that the entire countryside became a rioting neighbourhood of man and wildlife. As there was little legal protection for animals in the colonial times, except, perhaps, in reserved shooting blocks, wildlife lost its habitat to agriculture and huge numbers to poaching. Official response to this drastic loss came in the form of promulgation of various rules and regulations to regulate hunting. Madhya Pradesh enacted its ‘MP Forest (Hunting, Shooting, Fishing, Poisoning Water and Setting Traps or Snares in Reserved or Protected Forests) Rules, 1963 under the Indian Forest Act, 1927. A more organised response at the national level came in the form of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WPA) which created a strong framework for directing the future conservation efforts of the country. The Act was originally founded on the belief that wildlife is a natural resource which could be preserved if consumed carefully. It proposed the creation of a set of graded protected areas, namely national parks, sanctuaries, closed areas and game reserves, where animals were to be fully protected while prescribing conditions under which animals could be hunted and traded in other areas. However, the WPA lost its original character with the passage of time as a series of amendments have removed all the provisions aimed at permitting and regulating wildlife utilisation and ownership. As a result, there are no popular stakes in conservation in India now. The common man is expected to survive conservation on his own, i.e. if he can.
The result of this lopsided conservation policy is that neither human beings nor wild animals have gained anything from this. It is not that wild animals have prospered at the cost of human beings. There is no improvement in the density of wild animals in 95% of our forest which is not protected under WPA. Even among our protected areas, only a few high profile areas, mainly the tiger reserves, may have registered growth in wildlife densities, all others are no different from the general forest. In any case, the PAs were inherently richer in wildlife; therefore whether their present populations are the result of our current policies or not is debatable. The habitat loss, poaching, and even extinctions, are going on unabated.
Vanishing Animals and Birds
Ominous signs of the failure of our conservation policy are all around us. In Madhya Pradesh, three local extinctions have occurred, in the last decade, inside PAs. Black buck (Antelope cervicapra) from Kanha National Park, gaur (Bos gaurus) from Bandhavgarh National Park and the Great Indian Bustard (Choriotis nigriceps) from Karera Wildlife Sanctuary. The Siberian Cranes have abandoned our famed Keoladeo. There are reported to be no migratory birds there this winter (2004-05). There are (feared to be) no tigers in Sariska Tiger Reserve where I met my first tiger as a probationer in 1977. Madhya Pradesh is reporting a decreasing trend of cattle-lifting (2368 in 1999-2000; 697 in 2002-03) which obviously indicates a corresponding decline in the tiger and leopard numbers. There may be any number of other such unreported situations all across the country, apparently local but with a national and global significance. It is really scary!
While the blackbuck in Kanha was exterminated because of a high density of predators which thrived on abundant spotted deer, the gaur population of less than 50 animals just disappeared and never returned to the park from their monsoon range in 1994-95. Perhaps they died of disease or other factors. While these two species had been dwindling over the years, in the absence of active management, the bustard, an endangered species, is a classic case of rigid conservation policies that back-fired. The Karera Wildlife Sanctuary was created to preserve a relict population of the great Indian bustard in the eighties. The sanctuary has no forest and comprises only of private fields and government and private wasteland. The only management inputs imparted, as a consequence of it being declared a sanctuary, were in the form of restrictions on grazing of livestock and protection of bustard eggs. This resulted in a fast recovery of bustard population along with a similar effect on the black buck population that also existed there. While the rise in black buck population increased the incidence of egg damage, it also resulted in an increase in crop damage. The crop damage and the grazing restrictions, generated antagonism towards the bustard and the black buck, which culminated in the shape of killing of the antelope and destruction of eggs out of vengeance. Today, there are no bustards in the sanctuary while the black buck is back to where it began. If the black buck population had been maintained at a tolerable level, it is reasonable to argue with the advantage of hindsight, a healthy bustard population would have been still around. There is a strong demand from the local people and the politicians to denotify the sanctuary. The forest department and the conservationists will have to capitulate, sooner or later, as the sanctuary is serving no purpose anymore. Such passive management has damaged the conservation image as people feel that resident communities, as well as wildlife, would have been better off without a sanctuary. The disappearance of tigers from Sariska and their obvious decline in MP is apparently due to poaching and vindictive killing. Unlike trees, dead animals leave no stumps behind and we admit poaching only as much as we catch. Keoladeo has had a long history of conflict with local people which has resulted in the current situation, directly or indirectly.
A TRAGEDY WAITING TO HAPPEN?
The hard-ground barasingha (Cervus duvauceli branderi) has only one surviving population of about 300 animals in Kanha National Park. This population has recovered from a low of nearly 60 animals, as a result of a marvellous conservation effort consisting mainly of relocation of nearly two dozen villages, in the seventies and eighties. The barasingha and the spotted deer (Axis axis) populations both responded enthusiastically to the conversion of farm land into sprawling meadows. However, the spotted deer grew much faster than barasingha and has reached a figure of over 20,000, which itself is believed to be a gross underestimate. This increase has seriously impacted the meadows, many of which, including the famed central meadows, are without any grass cover and the barasingha has stopped visiting them for their winter rut and summer feeding. The meadows that were created for barasingha, have been appropriated by the spotted deer. The barasingha population has stagnated at the same level for nearly two and a half decades. If the barasingha is lost from Kanha, like the species mentioned earlier, the extinction will not be local. This sub-species occurs nowhere else, not even in zoos. To save barasingha, perhaps a reduction in the spotted deer density in the barasingha habitat is needed. Although the law allows this option, we are not ready to explore such uncharted paths. Perhaps because the current generation of policy makers and PA managers has been fed a little too much of ‘protection’.
These examples show that the PAs, at best, are preserving only the common and abundant species while the rare and the endangered ones are being lost from the PAs too. If conservation is not working inside PAs, there must be something seriously wrong with the way we practice it.
Wild animals live, substantially, off the agricultural lands, and predators take a serious toll of livestock and human lives, causing huge losses to the rural economy. In Madhya Pradesh alone, conservation impacts nearly 5,500 villages (within 2 km from forest boundary) with 451,000 families and 8,79,450 ha of cultivable land. Between April 1998 and March 2003, 166 human deaths, and 3131 human injuries from wildlife were reported. In addition, 14090 heads of cattle were killed by large predators. There is no record of the extent of damage to crops which is even more grievous than the losses to predators. Although most states have provisions for paying some kind of ex gratia amounts for the loss of human lives or livestock, very few states have a provision for compensating crop losses. There are neither attempts to estimate and compensate these costs, nor efforts to alleviate these problems and minimise the costs. And wherever any compensation systems exist, these are limited and cosmetic. Although no studies on the quantification of crop damage are available in India, even empirical estimates show that the quantum and spread of this damage is quite astounding. An accurate assessment of crop damage by wild animals is very difficult for various reasons. While it is difficult to distinguish the damage caused by wild animals from that caused by domestic livestock, quantification of the loss in monetary or grain terms is even more difficult without actually cutting the crop in damaged and control fields. A rapid survey, based on interviews with villagers, was conducted in the Noradehi, Raisen and Vidisha forest divisions in Madhya Pradesh in September 2002, to assess the crop damage. The data from Noradehi appeared to be sufficiently reliable to be useful for making state level projections, while that from the other divisions was useful for a general comparison. As per the data received from Noradehi, upto 30%, 10% and 40% loss was reported in case of paddy, wheat and gram crops, respectively, in the villages situated inside the sanctuary (sample: 2 villages, all families covered). The loss in these villages is attributed to nilgai, chinkara, chital and wild pig. In another village, situated about two km from the forest boundary, 10% and 25% loss in the case of paddy and gram crops respectively has been estimated. Here, the list of raiders also includes the common langur. No crop damage clearly attributed to wild animals was found in any village beyond 2 km from the forest boundary. The average crop damage has been assessed to be Rs. 1067 per ha, per year, in the sample villages, which comes to between 10% to 20% of the total yield, depending upon whether the field is irrigated or not and whether it is single crop or two crop agriculture. On the basis of the human population and cultivated area of 214 villages situated within 5 km from the sanctuary boundary and the crop loss assessed in the sample villages, the total loss to the state has been estimated as Rs. 628 crores out of which Rs. 94 crores is the direct loss while the remaining Rs. 534 crores is the cost of protection inputs in the form of labour and materials. Although these figures are rather empirical, but the exercise gives us an idea of the enormity of the problem. It is obvious that the actual damage to crops, coupled with the opportunity cost of protecting the crops is so high that it deserves a serious attention of the state and the society. Equally serious is the loss of quality of life of the people of the vulnerable villages in terms of lost comfort and sleep. Spending close to 100-200 nights, year after year, aperch precariously built machans in cold and wet weather must be a very exasperating experience!
It is obvious from the above that wild animals, both herbivores and predators are a serious issue in the lives of the rural people, especially the tribals and other poorer sections. While predators have to pay the price in terms of poisoning, snaring and electrocution deaths, crop-raiding populations, especially those away from PAs, are also in serious danger of being exterminated through poaching by locals as well as professionals. Unless serious efforts are made to control the prevailing conflict, these populations are likely to be wiped out in the near future.
Man and wildlife can coexist only if wildlife is treated as a natural resource and managed as such. Otherwise wildlife stands no chance against man. And man will not destroy anything that is useful to him. Wherever wildlife is considered only as a moral responsibility of man, it is endangered and humanity is suffering at the hands of wildlife. Where wildlife is nurtured and harvested as a natural resource, both man and wildlife are prospering. More and more countries are rediscovering the virtues of scientific management of wildlife and are using this resource for the welfare of the people, particularly those who are adversely affected by their disadvantaged location. Wildlife must serve as a natural resource for human beings for its own well being. If wildlife is managed as a natural resource and its returns are used for the welfare of the local people, they will be much more tolerant of the problems and losses caused by wild animals and will also keep the poachers at bay.
Managing wildlife as a natural resource means optimising the returns from conservation. The returns can come in two ways: tourism and sport hunting. While the tourism side of conservation is well known, the hunting aspect is extremely misunderstood. When we talk about hunting, we presume that it will be a free-for-all kind of situation where anybody can go and kill animals and that there will be an utter rampage. The reality is that hunting is a respectable sport where people pay for the sheer pleasure of being permitted to track the animals, with many variants of the procedure, while meat and trophies come as a by product. The numbers permitted to be hunted each year are based on the accruals to the populations through breeding. The intensity of hunting depends upon whether a population is to be permitted to grow or it is to be controlled. It compensates natural mortality to some extent at least but deters poaching significantly as the hunter, the resource management agency and the local people join forces to deter criminals while compulsive hunters get a legal outlet for their urge. Hunting is a means for the scientific management of the resource which would otherwise become either a liability or just decay as a result of the interspecific competition and incompatibility.
SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT OF POPULATIONS
As mentioned above, scientific management of herbivore populations is of critical importance to their well being, as otherwise, the populations may explode and push themselves, and their sympatric species, into extinction, by destroying their own habitat through overgrazing. Population management is all the more important in situations where these populations earn human hostility by damaging crops and other property. These populations can be saved only if they lose their nuisance value or, even better, if they turn into a positive resource for the people concerned. Translocation, culling and sport hunting are the only solutions for managing populations. These options are briefly discussed below:
Translocation of wild animals is a routine activity in Africa and other countries where wildlife is actively managed. It is mainly used for trading animals and stocking new protected areas or private game reserves. It is hardly ever used as a tool to manage unwanted herbivore populations because of the scale of operations required. Mass translocation of whole populations is an extremely expensive and slow proposition and is unviable as a tool of choice. Moreover, in India, we have no experience or expertise in handling animals at the required scale and it will be impossible to consider any sizable initiative without intensive hands-on training of a very large number of forest staff. As such training is not available in India at present, collaboration with African or American experts is the only way of introducing it at any reasonable scale. It usually involves high mortality rates which may be unacceptable in the current sentimental environment in India.
Culling is the process of reducing wild populations by killing. The term is more often used to describe an operation when management agencies themselves, or through hired shooters, kill large numbers of animals, of selected age and sex, to balance the population size, or its growth rate, to suit the available habitat. Culling requires expertise and equipment currently beyond the reach of our forest departments. Even more important issue is what to do with large numbers of dead animals in the light of the legal prohibition against utilising the products of culling for consumption or trade.
C Sport Hunting
Sport hunting, through permits, is the only viable way of managing wildlife populations in the long run. Hunting is one of the most popular recreation activities in the world for which people are ready to pay mind boggling amounts of money. An extreme example of the hunting craze was reported, in The Hunting Report Newsletter (at www.huntingreport.com
), when a single Canadian bighorn sheep hunt was auctioned for 4,05,000 dollars. And the hunter, one Sherwin Scott, could not bag the animal within the allotted 17 day hunt in the Cadoman area, bordering Jasper National Park. Wild animals near human habitations are being killed by poachers without paying anything. If we officially harvest the animals, which are otherwise being killed by poachers, and share the returns with the communities, the same animals can become a source of revenue.
This will tend to minimise poaching as the local people will have an incentive in guarding the animals. To do this, hunting licenses can be issued after deciding the sustainable bag limits and other necessary regulations. Licenses can be auctioned annually to the travel agents or hunting outfitters, who can then bring in sport hunters, with all the attendant benefits to the local people. In such a scenario, where more animals means more returns, people will have a built-in incentive for preserving these populations, rather than exterminating them. Apart from generating revenues from hunting fees, it will also support local businesses and employment as outfitters, guides, shopkeepers, transporters, handicrafts-trade etc. In South Africa, the hunters can take away only 3 kg of meat, the rest is sold locally and the proceeds go to the exchequer. The revenues generated from the operations can be used to compensate crop losses as well. Hunting, both for sport and for managing populations, is practiced in most countries of the world. It pays for a major proportion of the conservation budget and brings in very high returns to the adjoining communities.
Some of our common species, such as black buck, nilgai, sambar, chital and wild boar are eminently suited for this kind of management. Introduce Indian herbivores are among the most popular trophies in North and South America. Internet is full of advertisements and websites on hunting opportunities for these species. For example, one website, www.boarhunting.com
contains links to 2272 pages of content. Nilgai hunts get the highest price (bulls $ 900 and cows $ 500) in the famous King Ranch of Texas. Wild boar hunts are priced at $ 300-350 all over USA, Canada, South America and Europe.
As mentioned at the outset, the WPA, in its current form does not support any population management options. Section 11 (1) (b) of the Act, permits hunting of wild animals belonging to Schedule II, III and IV, if they become dangerous to human life and property, including standing crops. Section 12 permits hunting for education, scientific research and scientific management but gives a very restrictive definition of ‘scientific management’ of wildlife as ‘translocation of any wild animals to an alternative suitable habitat’ or ‘population management of wildlife without killing or poisoning or destroying any wild animals’. There is a glaring contradiction between these two sections. What section 11 gives us in terms of permitting ‘hunting’ problem populations, section 12 has taken it away by putting serious constraints on the term ‘management’. However, we can hunt these populations to their extermination without calling it ‘management’ as section 11 permits hunting in all its expressions, such as killing, poisoning and destroying etc. Paradoxically, we can permit hunting of wild animals inside PAs (section 29 and 35) under certain conditions, but cannot do so outside PAs.
Hunting, including culling, and translocation are the only tools for scientific management of wildlife. But, while translocation is an emergency response in selected situations, recreational hunting is a routine operation for managing wildlife populations all over the world. By outlawing hunting for scientific management of populations, we have almost totally eliminated any chances of serious attempts at alleviating the suffering of forest dwelling communities. Scientific management of wildlife is a tool to draw maximum benefits from this resource as well as to minimise the losses due to human wildlife conflict. These benefits can be drawn only through a system of ownership, utilisation and trade of wildlife products such as meat, trophies etc. The WPA does not permit any of these enterprises.
Even if we wanted to start recreational hunting, it will take a long time and huge effort to put the requisite systems and institutions in place. It has been generations since we have been on the current path of self destruction. The entire culture of tracking, bagging, processing, transporting and preserving wildlife products has been lost (except in the underworld). We may take generations to restore the respectability of the lost art, sport or livelihood whatever we may call it.
CURRENT SYSTEMS OF CROP PROTECTION
In response to the wide spread hue and cry against crop damage by nilgai, wild boar and black buck, many states, such as UP, MP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, etc. have permitted their hunting, except black buck, under severe restrictions. Madhya Pradesh has permitted killing of nilgai and wild boar but no one has applied for permission because of impossible and impractical conditions imposed.
Summary of Hunting Systems Permitted in Different States
State Species Features
MP Wild Boar
Nilgai Sport hunting outside RF/PF, beyond 5 km from PA boundary, permit issued by SDM, licence fee: local hunter Rs. 100, district level hunter Rs. 1000 per year, royalty: Rs. 100/animal, maximum hunt allowed: 5 animals per license/year
Hunting license issued by SDM on complaint, anyone with a licensed weapon can be permitted to hunt, has to hunt in the complainant's field only, and within 15 days, carcase property of the government.
Rajasthan Nilgai Forest Rangers to DCF authorised to kill, in specified districts
UP Nilgai DM, SDM and BDOs can issue hunting permits
Maharashtra Nilgai and Wild Boar Range Officers empowered to issue permission
Haryana Nilgai DFO to issue permits on request from Panchayats.
Whereas the legal provisions for hunting animals have been there since the inception of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, these have never been used due to the belief that any show of utilitarian attitude towards wildlife may trivialize its sanctity. Although the Act was amended in 1991, and again in 2002, to remove provisions for hunting, for pleasure or revenue, the MP Wildlife (Protection) Rules, 1974 still retain the original plan for sport hunting. Same may be true for other states as well.
Sceptics may raise the question of political and cultural problems. If the programme is liked and accepted by the people, the politicians will also support it. As far as the so-called cultural aversion to hunting is concerned, it is a complete hoax. A large majority of our people is non-vegetarian, poachers are butchering our wildlife, shikar was banned only as recently as 1970, while the sleeping provisions for hunting continued right upto 1991. The Madhya Pradesh Wildlife (Protection) Rules, 1974 still contain provisions regarding the constitution of shooting blocks and hunting fees. If fishing can be permitted, why should killing of any other species be a taboo? We can rest assured that if a proper communication campaign is launched before such a decision is implemented, we can have sufficient public opinion in favour of a people-centred and scientific wildlife utilization programme.
The arguments against sport hunting, given by well-meaning conservationists are as follows:
a) that starting sport hunting may open the floodgates for more poaching in the name of
b) we may not be able to control the bag limits within scientific prescriptions, due to our
notorious inability to implement our regulations;
c) it may deplete the prey base for endangered carnivores, and may lead to a rise in cattle-lifting depredations.
These are valid fears but a closer look will show that there are built in answers to these fears. The very proposal for introducing sport hunting is meant to reduce poaching by making entire rural populace the guardians of wild animals, rather than leaving it to the poor forest guard. As far as the question of exceeding sustainable bag limits is concerned, the risk is minimum in view of the fact that if the communities start getting reasonable incomes from the venture, the incentive and pressure to stick to sustainability will be a reasonable safeguard. We can even involve conservation lobbies and scientific institutions as independent watchdogs and advisors to ensure that limits are not crossed. The fear of depleting the prey base for predators is also unfounded as the numbers to be hunted will be very low (below 5% of the adult population per annum), and that too will be compensated by a reduction in poaching and natural mortality. Moreover, experience worldwide shows that, rather than depleting, populations of hunted animals grow, under the influence of properly managed hunting programmes. Even IUCN has officially recognised the value of recreational hunting in its 3rd Conservation Congress in the form of ‘IUCN Recommendation CGR3.REC007‘ which states as follows:
‘The World Conservation Congress at its 3rd Session ---- Accepts that well managed recreational hunting has a role in the managed sustainable consumptive use of wildlife populations.’ (Source: Press Release CIC, November 2004, CIC Budapest)
Whether we manage wildlife scientifically and harvest the annual surplus or not, crop damage is a reality we have to live with. Minimisation or compensation of these losses is critical for the welfare of the affected people as well as for wildlife. There are two possible strategies to deal with the problem, namely, prevention, and compensation. Prevention can either be by putting fences between the animals and crops or by reducing the populations of the problem animals. Compensation can be either on the basis of periodic assessments or at flat rates. These strategies can be used in various combinations, depending upon specific situations.
As crop and other kinds of damage is inevitable where man and wildlife live together, it is the duty of the government to compensate these losses because by feeding the animals on their crops, the farmers are directly bearing the cost of maintaining our wildlife, at least partially. Many governments have compensation schemes in place but generally prefer to call it ex gratia because the amounts offered are not comparable to the losses incurred. A summary of the kinds and rates of compensation prevalent in a few states is given in the Annexure at the end.
In most cases, the system of investigations before a payment can be made is so cumbersome that it is hard to imagine any money reaching the affected people at all. Therefore, the schemes are not really serving their obvious purpose of controlling the hostility of the people against wildlife. A more transparent, fair and effective policy can be based on the principle that everybody who lives in a given area is equally vulnerable to these losses and everybody should be paid at a uniform rates, irrespective of the actual loss. This is because the quantum of loss is likely to be inversely proportional to the crop protection costs incurred by the owner, which deserve to be compensated as well. In such a case, the probability of loss for different villages, or belts, can be assessed periodically through a systematic sampling, and cheques can be sent to the listed people without their having to submit a claim. Obviously, the scheme is going to be expensive. But if the poorest people are already paying the cost, it is reasonable for the government to foot the bill. Though it sounds utopian, such systems already exist in the western countries. It is reported that farmers in Great Britain get paid on the basis of the number of migratory ducks feeding in a field on the day of assessment. No assessment of actual loss is required as the loss will depend on the number of birds feeding in a field.
2 SUBSIDISED CROP FENCING
In Africa, most of the protected areas are fenced off with the help of a double fence, the inner one being a power fence while the outer one is a chain link fence. In many cases, a road runs along the periphery for patrolling the fence. The fence serves the dual purpose of keeping the wild animals inside while preventing the domestic livestock and people out. However, in India human habitation is intimately interspersed with wildlife habitats, therefore putting fences on forest or PA boundaries may be worthwhile at only very few locations. Another option can be either putting fences around villages or croplands, leaving corridors for wild animals between the fences. Again, as putting a single fence around whole villages may pose many practical problems, private fences involving groups of farmers, with attractive subsidies from the government may provide a more pragmatic solution. In fact, a combination of both the approaches, based on site-specific requirements, will have to be adopted. While chain-link fences are expensive to install but easy to maintain, power fences are relatively cheaper to install but require continual maintenance. Barbed-wire fences can also be a useful alternative if the strands are sufficiently close and tight to prevent animals from forcing through (and injuring themselves). However, in view of the exorbitant costs of metallic fencing, a heavy government subsidy will be required to popularise such solution. It is learnt that Gujarat has started offering 50% subsidy for crop fencing but the scheme has not yet picked up.
A realistic compensation for crop losses and protection costs, along with subsidies on crop protection, is a critical requirement for man-animal co-existence. There are all kinds of agricultural and other subsidies but none of them targets, conservation and agriculture alike. A conservation subsidy to fund such a scheme can go a long way in helping the poor farmers and wildlife at the same time. The current level of subsidies, mainly for agriculture and energy sectors, is to the tune of Rs. 200,000 crores per annum as reported in the news papers. Diverting some of this money for such a scheme should not be difficult for a large country like ours.
The most active theatres of conflict between local people and conservation are our protected areas, especially those that are still in the making. The law requires all private lands be acquired by the government before declaring an area a national park or a sanctuary. This requires wholesale relocation of large numbers of villages, and in some cases even townships. We neither have the wherewithal nor the will to undertake such an enormous exercise in human rehabilitation, nor the political and popular will. People do not want to go away from their ancestral habitats while the administration is unable to force them. As a result, most PAs continue to be only ‘intended PAs’ without any legal sanctity, the people living inside them have a sword of relocation dangling over their heads and have their lives seriously undermined by the restrictions placed on their access to their traditional resources, for grazing livestock, collecting fuelwood, small timber and NTFP and in some cases even water harvesting. They are not even permitted to trade their properties under the erroneous belief that it contravenes section 20 of the WPA which forbids the creation of new rights after the notification of intention. In fact the intention of the section is only to forbid the creation of new rights over government lands. Transactions in private land do not amount to the creation of new rights, it only transfers an existing right. Crop damage and predator attacks are also more pronounced around PAs. These areas have become a fertile ground for activists and extremists to foment trouble. Unless these issues are addressed urgently, conservation will continue to have a very cruel face for the general public and wildlife and its habitat shall continue to be in danger. There are two complimentary strategies to deal with this situation.
1. RATIONALISE PA BOUNDARIES: We must admit that most PA boundaries have been decided arbitrarily and large numbers of villages have been included in the PAs unnecessarily. Although the law provides that once the intention to declare a tract as a PA has been notified, we have to take a closer look at its provisional boundaries, as a part of the process of settlement of rights, but we are afraid to let go of any acre, fearing a spate of demands to excise more areas. Due to the difficulties in relocating these villages, the PAs have continued to be on shaky legal ground. Acquiring the lands for PAs is much more difficult today than it was twenty years ago. As a result of the stalemate, the affected people have lived under threat for too long while conservation has not gained much in the meanwhile. According to a rough estimate, nearly 10,000 villages are situated inside the proposed parks and sanctuaries and are the abode of nearly 775,000 families. The estimated cost of relocation runs close to Rupees 800 crores, even if we use government land for their resettlement. A large number of these villages are close to the periphery of the proposed PAs and can be easily excised, without much impact on the main strengths of the PA. It is estimated that only about twenty five percent of the villages, and population, really need to be relocated to give the PAs a meaningful size, while the rest can be allowed to remain under a modified management system that tries to strengthen the bonds of co-existence between the people and the parks.
2. EXPEDITE RELOCATION OF CRITICAL HUMAN SETTLEMENTS: Relocation of human habitations situated in critical habitats in proposed PAs must remain a high priority agenda with the conservation agencies as man and animals can not co-exist at high densities. Relocation is as much in the interest of the affected people as that of wildlife, in view of the tremendous difficulties that they face. Despite the popular myth that relocations are involuntary and forced, most people living in the proposed PAs in Madhya Pradesh are keen to be rehabilitated elsewhere. We have moved out nearly 2000 families from the proposed Asiatic Lion rehabilitation area in the last 4-5 years, while three villages have moved out of the Panna National Park in 2004. We have, perhaps, made a big mistake so far, in treating each village as a unit for relocation. As it is difficult to find sufficient money, and land, to rehabilitate a whole village in one go, a gradual process of encouraging and facilitating willing families to emigrate would have been much more painless and efficient. Due to the difficulties in living in a proposed PA, a lot many people want to go away, only if they can get a remunerative price for their properties. Section 20 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, and its (un) popular misinterpretation, has done more damage to conservation than any thing else, by stopping people from emigrating.
Animal resources, like plant resources, have a natural growth curve, involving growth, equilibrium and decay, in that order. This growth pattern eminently lends itself to human intervention according to scientific principles. If we do not control growing populations, by removing the annual increment at or just before the equilibrium, the animals will destroy their habitat, and consequently themselves. They will also become pests and will, in any case, lose popular and political support. It will neither serve the interests of the protectionists nor of pragmatic conservationists if the populations are permitted to enter the decay phase without any economic benefits to the society. Wisdom dictates that we must treat our wildlife as a renewable natural resource and must manage it as such for human welfare. Experience worldwide has proved this beyond doubt and we too should reconsider our ecological policies, as we are rewriting our economic policies, in the light of global experiences. As nothing can be attempted beyond the prevailing legal framework, we will have to begin by overhauling the WPA to bring it in tune with the principles being followed globally. Last, but not the least, conservation must not be a problem for the local people and we must give mitigation of their losses top priority.
President Theodore Roosevelt of USA summed up the entire debate long ago in the following words:
“In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen. The excellent people who protest against all hunting and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife are ignorant of the fact that in reality the genuine sportsman is by all odds, the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.” (Quoted in African Indaba Vol. 3-1, January 2005)
SUMMARY OF COMPENSATION SYSTEMS IN VARIOUS STATES
TYPE OF LOSS STATE RATE OF COMPENSATION (RS.)
Crop Damage AP At par with natural calamities or riots.
West Bengal 2500/Ha
Tamil Nadu Upto 15000
Livestock Deaths AP Market Value
West Bengal 70-450
Maharashtra 3000-9000 (or 75% of the market value, whichever is less)
Human Deaths, Permanent Disability, Injuries Karnataka 25000-100,000
AP Upto 20000
W Bengal 5000-20000
Tamil Nadu 20000-10,0000
Jharkhand 33,333 -1,00,000
Loss of House, other Property Karnataka 5,000
AP At par with natural calamities or riots
West Bengal 500-1000
Tamil Nadu 5000