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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 33, New Delhi, August 1, 2020

Is there any win-win solution for resolving the man-wildlife conflict? | Tarun Kumar Basu

Friday 31 July 2020, by Tarun Kumar Basu

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated." - Mahatma Gandhi

Now we have started understanding between the lines of the above quotation. Some heart-rending incidents happened in recent past in the country that caused national and international indignation. A wild pregnant elephant at Palakkad village in Kerala ate a fruit, filled with firecrackers that unfortunately exploded in her mouth. She was unable to chew any food and as a result of this she starved to death in a nearby river with her unborn child. A similar heartbreaking incident occurred in Himachal Pradesh, where a pregnant cow grazing in the fields and consumed wheat flour with explosives, resulting in massive injuries in mouth. Another case occurred in Tamil Nadu, where a jackal died when she consumed meat, mixed with explosive substance.

These inhumane incidents sparked a massive row on social media. Animal activists and wildlife enthusiasts have demanded inflexible action against those who left behind such bait for wild animals. It is, however, a very common practice in Kerala, to fend off wild animals by keeping such baits. Local people are saying that they do so to protect their agricultural stock from wild animals. Millions of animals are killed in India either to feed the non-vegetarian population or in laboratories for medical experiments and chiefly for illegal trading. Cruelty against animals is a cognizable offence under Section 428 and Section 429 of the Indian penal code. A new study has revealed that incidents of wildlife poaching in India have more than doubled during the lockdown for Corona virus with 88 animals being killed for meat and illegal trade during this time compared to 35 in the pre-lockdown days in February. The Wildlife Protection Act was enacted in 1972 for protection of animals and plant species. In the year 2002, the law was amended and came into force in 2003, making punishment and penalty for offences under the Act more stringent. The Indian Elephant is protected under Schedule one of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 for maximum protection. It has been enlisted as “Endangered” in the Red List of “Threatened Species" of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Nevertheless, with such escapable and forbearing penalties, perpetrators of such crimes mostly walk free.

There is a growing melody among the organizations work for the protection of the wild animals calling for a nationwide campaign to amend the punishment sections of the Wildlife Protection Act and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Both of these acts are at least 48 years old. With such archaic laws, there is little fear among the perpetrators and it also shows that the government needs to care more about wildlife and make necessary amendments of archaic Wildlife Protection Laws to bring animal abusers to justice. Section 14 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 states,” Nothing contained in this Act shall render unlawful the performance of experiments on animals for the purpose of advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge which will be useful for saving human life. Section 11, which awards fines and punishments for certain violations of the Act are petty and offenders can plainly pay this paltry fine and get away with maltreatment of animals.

The “Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experimentation on Animals” (CPCSEA), which was set up to implement good laboratory conditions and practices and monitor animal experimentation in India. However, animal research in India is notoriously perforated with problems, both in implementation and of legislation. Most pharmaceutical companies that practice animal experimentation do not have proper infrastructure, hygienic food and even do not have full time veterinarians or care takers to take care of the experimented animals.

Data from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change shows over the past five years, 490 elephants in India died due to unnatural causes, such as poaching, electrocution, and poisoning. The illegal wildlife trading market is flourishing and growing into a global menace. To boost the population of endangered animals, despite multiple initiatives taken by the government, their numbers have been on a steady decline. We should search for the reason of this state. At the present estimate, 81 species of mammals, 38 species of birds, 18 species of amphibians and reptiles considered to be endangered in India. The entire world faces the problem of illegal wildlife trade, despite some stricter laws and punishments according to the constitution. There are many reasons attributed to the growth in illegal wildlife trafficking such as forgiving law and order, ample demand in markets and huge money-making opportunities. In 2013, South Africa witnessed death of 1300 Rhinos, due to poaching. The statistics provide us with the gravity of the international wildlife trading happening illegally. People are using firecrackers, electrocution and poison to kill animals. They find loopholes in the law and employ inhumane methods. The wildlife protection laws are not enforced in a suitable manner by the government agencies. The punishment and fines that are stipulated for this kind of heinous crimes are not sufficient.

The Indian Government did take effective initiatives to conserve wildlife in the country, and amongst it, most commendable initiatives is the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. It interdicts illegal trade of rare and endangered species. However, this is not the only encomiastic measure taken by the Government of India; there are many schemes and projects that have helped the country maintaining its rich wildlife. Some important Wildlife Protection Projects, such as tiger projects, elephant projects, crocodile projects etc., have been taken by Indian Government to make a balance in environment and to save animals.

One of the most successful steps ’Project Tiger’ which was initiated in 1972 has not only contributed to the conservation of tigers but also of the ecosystem. Likewise Project Elephant Initiated in 1992 by the Government of India to conserve elephants and their habitat and of migratory routes by developing scientific and planned management measures with the help of experts. Under the project welfare of the domestic elephants is also considered, and the cruelty issues like mitigation of human-elephant conflict are also taken care of.

Government of India has taken some remedial measures for the protection of wild animals by enhancing protected areas and created National Parks, Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves for the wildlife under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and forced punishments on those entangled in illegal act of hunting and trading. Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has been established in order to control the illegal trade of wildlife animals and that of endangered species. A popular technology, “E-Surveillance” has been started in Kaziranga National Park in Assam and another in Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

Urbanization is one of the factors for human-animal conflict. Land transformations to farms, industrial activities, and human settlements can endanger the lives of animals, and create competition for the limited natural resources. Environmental issues including deforestation, and the use of pesticides and chemicals forced the animals to step out from the forest for searching of foods.

As per data received, the 13 largest seizures of ivory alone yielded 23 metric tones of ivory in 2011. This figure represents 2,500 elephants being killed by poachers in that year. It is estimated that in 2013 30,000 elephants were killed by poachers as illegal wildlife trade. Poor people are involved to the industry due to the large amounts of people who are prepared to pay for these animals and animal products. Stopping the illegal wildlife trade is a mammoth task to protect iconic and threatened wildlife. For the protection of such symbolic animals like elephants, rhinos and tigers, people should be more conscious. The problem is not only for our country, but a global one. Around 20,000 African elephants are killed by poachers each year. The illegal wildlife trade is an organised international crime that is the fourth biggest illegal trade in the world.

So, at present, in consultation with wildlife experts, Government should pay heed attention to curb the terrible situation. We should emphasize on educating communities around us, proper land-use planning, maintaining ecological balance. These steps can significantly reduce the man-animal conflict, besides protection of crops and livestock. We are optimistic that this critical situation will be over as every cloud has a silver lining.

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