Messy Inheritance | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Messy Inheritance

An inheritance from the Imperial British Army was the tradition of hunting and adorning the officers' mess with wildlife trophies. Posted in the field for long periods and with unbridled access to arms and ammunition, many an Indian Army officer tried his luck at hunting. Vikram Jit Singh writes.

chandigarh Updated: Dec 14, 2013 22:57 IST
Vikram Jit Singh

An inheritance from the Imperial British Army was the tradition of hunting and adorning the officers' mess with wildlife trophies. Posted in the field for long periods and with unbridled access to arms and ammunition, many an Indian Army officer tried his luck at hunting. In the process, permits and rules to be observed were given a miss by some officers, resulting in an enduring lack of legality to the blood sport.

The Garhwal Rifles Officers' Mess at Landsdowne, Uttarakhand, now finds itself in the eye of a storm. The mess has trophies of wild animals dating to the British Raj, and shot by its officers in India and overseas campaigns such as in Italy, Iran, Afghanistan and Tanzania. Touted as a collection that rivals those belonging to the erstwhile royalty, the trophies at the mess include those of the tiger, leopard, lion, bear, musk deer, bison, thar and ibex.

The Garhwal Rifles Regimental Centre claimed in a response to an RTI query by animal rights activist Naresh Kadyan that not only were the trophies of Raj vintage but that the mess was a "private set-up". This claim of Raj vintage is doubtful as hunting continued with full force after the British departed. The mess has got entangled in legal problems because trophies were not declared to the Government of India under the Declaration of Wildlife Stock Rules, 2003. By: Naresh Kadyan

What the mess has simply done is declared the trophies to the DFO, Kalagarh Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand, on June 16, 2005. This declaration to a state wildlife official does not provide any legal cover to the trophies. Recognising the illegal ownership of these trophies, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau directed the Uttarakhand chief wildlife warden (CWW) to take action against the mess authorities. Kadyan also sent a notice to the CWW, seeking action under Section 55 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. However, the CWW seems to have gone into deep slumber, forcing Kadyan to petition the chief minister. This controversy brings to the fore the legality or otherwise of such trophies owned by other officers' messes, such as the ones displayed by 4 Sikh (Saragarhi).

Feed to death

People feeding migratory birds at Sukhna Lake are either pious souls or those wanting to indulge in a bit of fun. But these winged winter visitors suffer due to this thoughtless feeding. On December 9, TV journalist Kirandeep witnessed a safai karamchari fishing out a dead Common Pochard from the water and dumping it in a dustbin near the police post at the lake's entrance. Since there was no wildlife official in sight, Kirandeep asked the cops to inform the wildlife department.

Pochards, Tufted Ducks and Eurasian Coots hang around the hordes of the white domesticated or pet geese like pathetic stray dogs or monkeys waiting for food scraps near shrines. Tourists love to feed birds with spiced `channas', bread, butter popcorn, 'atta' balls etc. The diet of these white geese solely depends on tourist alms. When a tourist flings food, migratory birds rush forward like refugees at a drought-relief camp eager to grab food packets flung at them from trucks. Migratory birds can be seen in the water. By: Vikram Jit Singh

The chief wildlife warden has put up a prominent yellow board at that spot, warning tourists that it is illegal to feed migratory birds. The warning was occasioned by the death of eight migratory birds in the 2012-13 winter. Their post-mortem indicated cause of death as fatty liver or jaundice and was likely to have been occasioned by intake of oily foods. However, the board does not pictorially distinguish between migratory birds and domesticated geese (the latter are better able to digest such food scraps).

Tourists cannot be expected to know which birds to feed and which not to. Neither is there any wildlife guard present to restrain tourists from feeding migratory birds. Migratory birds have evolved on an omnivorous diet based on wetland eco-systems and their digestive systems cannot cope with alien, human foods.

Hogging attention

After the last amendments pertaining to the schedules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, were carried out in September, 2009, the Centre has ushered in the latest adjustments. The most significant of the amendments notified by the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) on December 6, 2013, under the signature of director (wildlife preservation) SS Garbyal, has been the upgradation of the Hog Deer (Axis Porcinus) from Schedule 3 to Schedule 1, which places it on a par with the tiger, leopard etc, inviting maximum punishment for poachers. This deer, popularly known as the 'Parra', was once found in the Terai grasslands along the Himalayan foothills and the flood-plains of the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers, from Punjab in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east.

However, the assault on its grassland habitat has left the deer's population in rapid decline and it is classified as an "endangered" species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The deer is identified by the white underside of its tail and for its pig-like movements and squat appearance. Sightings of the deer in Punjab have declined drastically.

Poaching has led to this deer turning into a nocturnal species in some parts of India. While placing this deer under Schedule 1 is a welcome move, experts like BC Choudhury (former head, department of endangered species management, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun) argue that this enhanced legal protection will mean little at the ground level because the government has not put in place an effective support/action plan for its conservation.