Not all exotic animals whose flesh is consumed in Assam and elsewhere in the Northeast are killed. Many are run over by trains and speeding vehicles - NH37 for instance skirts Kaziranga National Park - while some are bundles of flesh left behind by poachers interested in horn (rhino), tusk (elephant), hide (tiger, leopard and deer), bile (bear) or musk (deer).
In certain cases, carnivores are lynched and eaten to avenge the killing of cattle. Some villagers of Koibartagaon in eastern Assam's Sivasagar district were booked for eating an eight-month-old leopard some time ago.
"Elephants, rhinos, leopards, monkeys, civets, monitor lizards, snakes, porcupines … people who would never touch even pork or beef are now going for such exotic meat. Rhinos that stray from Kaziranga to certain tribal areas in Lakhimpur and Sonitpur districts are eaten fairly regularly after poachers do their job. Some tribes have traditionally eaten certain wild animals, not all, but even non-tribal people are partaking of such meat," said Firoz Ahmed of green group Aaranyak.
Lakhimpur deputy commissioner Anwaruddin Choudhury, who is also a wildlife specialist, said the trend was catching on in other parts of Assam too.
"People in eastern Assam, bordering Nagaland, do not hesitate to eat rare monkeys and other creatures these days," he said.
A few months ago, villagers in Karbi Anglong hacked a female elephant and its calf run down by a train. Elephants are killed in Meghalaya too, their meat sun-dried and smuggled out to Southeast Asia via Bangladesh.
But principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Suresh Chand insisted the instances of eating wild animals were rare. "Our officials and NGOs are creating awareness," he told HT.
Wildlife activists, however, said forest officials have been playing down the issue. "In areas where free exotic meat is available, chicken and mutton selling at R200-300 a kg seldom serve as snacks with alcoholic binges.
There is a lack of coordination between the district authorities, forest departments and the Centre's Wildlife Crime Bureau, whose job it is to punish people killing wildlife for food, if not to trade body parts," said Azam Siddiqui, of Animal Welfare Board of India.