In August 2013, a wildlife conservation organisation released a photograph of a male leopard that had been captured by the Assam wildlife department after it strayed into a human settlement.
It’s one of those photographs that get etched in the minds of viewers forever: The young animal is inside a cage with a menacing-yet-helpless look in its eyes and a half snarl on its face.
However, the leopard was lucky that it was not mauled by people, but rescued in time by the authorities. Thanks to population growth, urbanisation and development projects, the habitat for wildlife is decreasing, leading to a growing man-animal conflict. While people, especially those living near wildlife-inhabited areas, often lose livestock and their own lives to wild animals, the latter are often forced to leave their natural habitat due to lack of space, food and the destruction of corridors that facilitate their movement. Since neither of the two can be fully blamed for the scenario, what is needed is a humane way to tackle the situation by the arbiter of such ‘disputes’, the government.
The ministry of environment and forests is keen to opt for measures that defy all that India’s conservation history stands for. It has proposed new regulations on hunting wildlife outside protected areas such as national parks and sanctuaries as well as trade in non-endangered flora and fauna. Conservationists feel this will encourage the killing of wildlife, whose population has shrunk to alarming levels over the past century due to poaching and the illegal trade in animal bones and skins. States like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have sought clear guidelines on wildlife straying out of sanctuaries and turning hostile.
The ministry wants to permit certain communities to carry out rituals that encourage killing wild and scheduled animals listed under the wildlife act. Also, it wants to amend the law to facilitate keeping wild animals in captivity, in accordance with traditional practices used in rural sports and religious functions in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Punjab. The new policy would also define when and under what circumstances a wild animal could be killed. At a time when Nepal has banned animal sacrifice at its 300-year-old Gadhimai festival, India’s moves are worrying and retrograde.