The brutal Killing of leopard by more than 1500 people in the Mandwar village of Gurgaon, the killing and purposeful mutilation of a Royal Bengal tigress in the Bangmara village of Assam, the killing of an elephant who was feeding her new born calf in the Ghoramari village of Tejpur District in Assam and finally the brutalizing and killing of a monkey by medical students in the Christian Medical College in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu are all news items of a single day. Does this indicate a heightened level of human vengeance against the weak, unprotected, helpless animals or failure of state machinery in managing man animal conflicts? Most of these conflicts indicate an animal’s need for food, a habitat or a lost family especially their young ones. Ironically, these bloodthirsty human killers fail to understand that an animal’s straying into human habitats is simply a product of man’s swiping encroachment of already shrinking animal habitats. Sadly, instead of falling back on knowledgeable retrofitting of this situation some of the recent reckless decisions of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change have only encouraged and legitimized this tendency to kill many wild life animals by tagging them as vermins.
In 2011 a well researched booklet was prepared by the Ministry in consultation with the wild life experts, local people and forest and revenue officials. Since these conflicts are mostly locale-specific, the booklet prepared a ground work of action which could prevent any loss to both humans and animals while at the same time manage in advance the incidents of loss of life and livestock caused by leopards. The Minister had expressed hope in his foreword to the booklet that district administration, revenue and forest officials would find it worthwhile for managing such conflicts. Symptomatically of our governance system, no subsequent Minister heading this most meaningful Ministry has ever cared to flip through the pages of this booklet. Its become some sort of a break from monotony for villagers to collectively demonstrate this brazen chivalry against an unprotected lost animal. This human act is unleashing of the tempestuous wild suppressed in a civilized human brain which could be devastatingly dangerous to any progressive society.
The common Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus) is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and included in Appendix I of CITES. It is the ‘near extinction on the IUCN Red List’. In a proactive MEF national workshop of 2007 in New Delhi a pragmatic management policy for this wild cat was found urgently needed. The Chief Wildlife Wardens and Forest officials from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir were brought together.
The key issues concerning such killings can be zeroed down as follows;
1. Availability of basic infrastructure, adequate training, equipment and capacity building of the District Forest Officials and Police Officers.
2. There is need to increase wild habitats including the wild prey availability in reserves, building more water reservoirs, restoration of degraded areas and locale specific census of population.
3. There is urgent need for an emergency response plan(ERP) with the wildlife officials. The experts have repeatedly insisted that an Assistant Conservator of Forest(ACF) backed by a veterinarian and a group of 4-5 trained support members should be ready to take field action immediately wherever needed.
4. The policy for an ERP should bring together all local authorities including the Panchayat members. It should start from crowd management by immediately curfewing the area through a public address system kept ready on a forest jeep followed by an animal ambulance with necessary capture and trapping equipment alongside a transport protocol.
5. After capture the animal health should become a priority followed with appropriate treatment before its release in the forest or in precarious disability into a rehabilitation zone.
6. An enforceable ethical amendment to section 11(a) of the Wildlife Protection Act has to be made to fix responsibility of mob killing of stray wild animals and subsequent welfare of trapped animal upon the Chief Wildlife Wardens. Currently every reprehensible human act is accepted as these Wardens play no role in preventing it and setting accountability upon the doer. Efforts are needed under the Wildlife Protection Act, Sec.429 of IPC and State Wildlife Protection regulations responsibility, accountability and killing should be clearly defined within the circumstances defined by The Chief Wildlife Wardens and not the mobs or the government. Penalties and punishments should be increased. Unless local institutions become active participants to conflict resolution and enforcement such killings may continue to occur.
India is passing through the most appropriate philosophical discourse of ‘animal killing’ in which no other than the country’s Prime Minister himself has gone public with folded hands pleading people to ‘not kill and be vegetarians’. Its time this philosophy deepens into a public policy institutionalized framework of action which could prohibit bloodbath of these straying helpless wild animals forever.
The writer is a professor and the chairperson at the Centre for Law and Governance, JNUShe is also the Patron for Walk for Animals and Habitat, Gurgaon