Tuesday, February 7, 2023
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Elephant or wild pig, none should die in blast. Cuteness quotient must not guide conservation

The attitude of Indians towards animals swings from an innate reverence for select species to a pretty strong sadistic streak on a routine basis.

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The death of the pregnant female elephant in Kerala due to explosion injuries in her mouth has stirred emotions across India. There has been a unanimous expression of outrage and a demand for punishing the guilty. While I understand the outrage among people, I am equally convinced that we are all asking the wrong questions and demanding solutions that will have very little positive impact on wildlife conservation. It is a clear case of us missing the forest for the trees.

This is not an isolated incident. And this is also a case of selective outrage. There are complex forces at play. It is easy and probably also lazy to pass comments without trying to understand the ground reality.

Also read: One arrested in pregnant wild elephant killing case in Kerala

Selective love for animals

Some are now saying that the explosives were probably meant for wild pigs, and not elephants.  To lay baits with explosives in an attempt to kill any wild animal is not only illegal, but also indicative of the levels of depravity we have sunk to. How can it be acceptable to kill wild pigs using this technique? Will the pigs not suffer and die a very painful death? It is unfortunate that the charisma (cute quotient) of a species often determines how humans collectively respond. We have to learn to move beyond this, and realise that in nature, there is a web of life and for any species to thrive, this web needs to be in place and functional.

The attitude of Indians towards nature and animals, spans a wide spectrum. It swings from an innate reverence, especially towards certain species of plants and animals to a pretty strong sadistic streak on a routine basis. Instances of crackers being tied to animals like donkeys, wanton stoning of dogs on the street, or killing of snakes abound.

Conservation cannot be episodic and has to be planned and practised over long periods of time, ideally on a multi-decadal time scale. For nature (including elephants) to thrive, vast stretches of natural habitats, which are inter-connected and cover a variety of eco-climatic zones, are required. India’s wilderness has been fragmented, degraded and destroyed over the past several decades by our actions that have resulted in local extinction of numerous plants and animal species. In other places, we have literally rendered them homeless. This trend of destroying wilderness areas, including in and around our protected areas, is continuing unabated and needs to be confronted.

Also read: Elephant death ‘inhumane’, Modi govt asks Kerala to identify officers who acted irresponsibly

Protecting ecological integrity

The fate of individual animals is always predetermined. Death is guaranteed. It is the cause and circumstances of death that we need to keep an eye on. For conservation to succeed, habitats and their ecological integrity need to be protected over the long-term, which, in turn, will allow populations to thrive and persist.

It is vital that this nuance is understood, and we, as citizens, do not remain mute spectators, allowing the continued destruction of wilderness in India. Halting such destruction and ensuring ecological restoration has to become a national priority, and a path to real and sustainable development. Closely linked to conservation is the environmental impact of our lifestyle and consumption patterns. Each of us has to act much more responsibly, take action to reduce our environmental impacts and not pass the buck.

Also read: Pregnant elephant hadn’t eaten for 2 weeks due to major oral wound, says post-mortem report

Thin line between animal and human rights

The circumstances under which humans hurt animals also vary. While I make a strong case against deliberate breaking of law to poach, we also have incidents where farmers, desperate to protect their crops, end up hurting animals.

Human-wildlife conflict is an everyday reality for many Indians, especially as conservation of specific populations of large mammals succeeds. Given the relatively small size of our protected areas, a significant number of large mammals are living outside protected areas in human-dominated habitats. These are the people paying the real cost of conservation, which is often not appreciated.

If conservation is to succeed and be sustainable over a longer period, we have to adopt models that are much more inclusive of local communities. We need mechanisms that do not compromise on justice when it comes to dealing with the local communities. We don’t need rules that project conservation solely as a sacred activity (which it is in its own right) while making it acceptable to deny rights, displace families and destroy the lives of people. This is not conservation. Conservation, especially in a democratic country like India, has to be law abiding and accountable. There can be no reason to make exceptions for conservation when it comes to respecting and honouring the rights of people.

It is my hope that more and more Indians will approach these complex issues with an open mind and advocate for varied models of conservation, which are inclusive and just. Models which are developed on local conditions and knowledge systems rather than on a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach.

The author is CEO, Metastring Foundation. He has worked with the Wildlife Institute of India, UNDP, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, WCS – India Program, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, Foundation for Ecological Security and Greenpeace. Views are personal.

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  1. Conservation of natural resources per se is a very challenging proposition in a poor developing country with burgeoning and exploding human population. With conflicting demand for land use the the balance between conservation and development especially the subsistence farming is becoming almost impossible. The passive management of wildlife must be gradually replaced by active management if wild animal population has to survive. Habitat management needs considerable improvement to restrict and hold the animals mainly in forest areas . Otherwise they will stray in adjacent farms and cause havoc both for life and property of poor farmers. The compensation offered to farmers for loss are totally inadequate and very badly delayed. The human animal conflict needs a long term solution encompassing benefit for both humans and animals as a whole. Can we think of a novel approach rather than the stereotype tried till now.

  2. Lets keep aside wild animals. What will we do with RAT in our house? Can we trap and kill them or else allow them whatever they want to do? What we are doing in our house against rat is them same what farmers doing against wild animals, only when it comes to threats on their farming in large scale. Otherwise no farmer wish to disturb wild animals. When wild animals destroys the entire farm at the time of harvest, and everything went on toss for farmers, their effort of one year, their bank loan and everything and they suicides, nobody is their to raise voice for them.

  3. Wild life wading into private land leads to a conflict. You talk about cruelty if the pineapple had a cracker inside. How about a fish line !!!
    I dont like if a dog is tortured but i dont care if they are picked by municipality for culling.

    Journalists also have responsibility while covering such news. Initially it was told some mischievous people did it for fun. Sensationalizing isn’t humane either. What sort of a cracker goes off in the mouth and is huge enough to kill an elephant. There are still lots of holes in the story.

    Also there are railway lines in the wild. Now we didn’t like some elephants got hit by trains.

  4. Most of the imbalance is created by man. “One kind of species should not exceed”….The human kind is that seceies whose population is exceeding….!
    In the same breath one should clearly understand that an animal which is not cute also should not be eliminated because of it’s “ugliness”…!

  5. Sir, at the first instance, I take offense to the very first sentence to say that Indians have sadistic tendencies … I consider it to be extremely offensive statement and in no way propounds your cause for conservation.

    At the very fundamental levels, humans are also yet another species and have a natural tendency to dominate the landscape. It is for the conservationists to come with an appropriate model for conservation and sell the concept to the community at large. To propagate the concept of “big four”, “key stone species” etc. was the work of conservationists. Indian cultural system recognises all animals, be it a rat (as vahana for Ganesha) or the crow (vahana for Shani) or the owl … or the dog (Yama’s incarnation to meet Yudhistira) or the Vulture (as Jatayu) … I don’t think Indian culture has discriminated on any animal. It is the conservationists themselves who have propagated the discrimination model.

    I agree with you that those who practice such activities like stuffing food with explosives, using explosives for fishing etc. are demons. There is no excuse for that. Not only is it illegal, it is immoral and anti to our culture. I wish you had conveyed this message more coherently.

    We talk of local communities and their protection. But we forget that, it is relevant only if these communities continue to be living the life style consistent with environment. One ready example that stands out to me is the need to protect the Sentinalese. If the local communities have changed their lifestyle consistent with prosperity of the “outsiders” acquiring vehicles, guns, TVs, mobiles etc … use plastics and packaged food … they no longer are native to the environment. They have become like you and me, civilisation oriented people. Remember, your and my ancestors were also local communities some time … Don’t get me wrong … they are entitled to the luxuries of our times, the way we moved out, they too have the right to … but the same becomes inconsistent with the environment and conservation. The forest dwelling rights have been misused for purposes of homestays and providing bush meat, to put it mildly. We need to address that too …

  6. Totally agree with Deepak. Yes its obvious that ecology, forest and environment needs a larger eye with constant overview. That doesn’t dilute the a minimal ethical sense that even a smaller kid is aware of, which is Practicing socialism and friendliness to fellow humans and other species and environment as well. What is being called here as an emotion that aired through out country was primarily a act of mischief and definite misconduct and irresponsibility. Which is acceptable in no ways. Talking about other animals suffering, the crackers were primarily used only in agricultural field by then agriculturists. Now better alternatives have come like strong barbed fencing etc. And elephants are different from pigs, they buld forest with their movement across nation, unlike pig, where its hunted often as staple elephant isn’t. And this is no excuse for a mischief performed by humans and cover it up in larger environment scale. Definitely no. Its just ridiculous giving larger picture of nature, conservation etc etc.
    Deliberate action of few humans killing humanity.

  7. How about Coyote ? Can we kill them to protect our farm chickens and lamb ? What is your solution ?

    • An animal is disturbing human properties, so Killing that animal is justified….
      If humans disturb the animals can we kill humans under the same logic…?

  8. Killing animals whether small or large for food and human resources is cruelty but people say to make a balance in food web one kind of species cannot exceed as it will disturb the entire food chain. So, it concludes that everything should be done in a balance manner. But the cause of death and situations matters. Killing of pregnant elephant and that too by honey trapping an explosion into her mouth is in humane.

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