Simply put: Why culling is not a ‘lust for killing’, it is conservation

Union Ministers Maneka Gandhi and Prakash Javadekar faced off last week over the culling of wild animals. JAY MAZOOMDAAR explains the key issues.

Written by Jay Mazoomdaar | Published:June 13, 2016 3:59 am
Maneka Gandhi, Prakash Javadekar, animal cruelty, vermin, environment ministry, ministry of environment and forests, animal killing india, monkey killing himachal, wild boar killing, government allows animal killing, animal rights india, animal cruelty by government, government killing animals, india news Union Ministers Maneka Gandhi (L), Prakash Javadekar

What is culling?

Selection, says the dictionary. In the wild, it is the process of weeding out of the weak — through starvation, disease and predation. It is nature’s way of controlling population and maintaining the robustness of a stock.

A population boom makes individuals compete for food and safety, and the weaker ones lose out, leaving a smaller population of more able individuals. As a result, no forest supports more herbivores than can possibly forage adequately, and more carnivores than those herbivores can provide for.

In the post-conservation era, however, human intervention became necessary for the management of wildlife populations through controlled hunting, which is now referred to as culling.

And why did that become necessary?

The wild herbivore population has multiplied in many areas — the result of bans or restrictions on hunting, loss of natural predators, availability of non-forest food sources (cropland, garbage dumps), etc. When too many wild animals compete with humans for resources, posing a threat to life and livelihood, it is considered necessary to restrict or reduce such populations through controlled culling.

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Is it a global phenomenon?

Pretty much. In the US, some areas require seasonal culling to ease pressure on livestock feed. In parts of Africa, culling has been used for commercial harvesting. Australia culls feral cats to protect native species. It also culls kangaroos, its iconic species.

Why are animal welfare activists opposed to it?

The primary objection is ethical. The human population boom, they argue, is the biggest drain on the planet’s resources. So if we don’t consider culling humans, we do not have the right to cull other species. Wildlife are forced out of forests, they claim, to raid cropland because forests are being encroached upon by people. They also allege that so-called controlled culling frequently leads to free-for-all shooting sprees, and permitting a cull actually creates a conducive atmosphere for the poaching mafia to move in.

So, aren’t these valid points?

The ethical argument cannot, of course, be rejected offhand.

Loss of forestland to mines, industry, agriculture, roads, railways, canals etc. is a big trigger for man-animal conflict. But while loss of forest cover creates flashpoints between people and large species such as elephants and tigers, crop-raiding by smaller herbivores becomes acute primarily due to a local population boom. Moreover, even the best protected forests do not offer as high-nutrient options as, say, standing wheat or maize.

It is true that culling drives are often not well monitored. But that can’t be a reason to stop them altogether. Also, it is specious to claim that time-bound, limited permissions to cull create an atmosphere for poaching. Most of these cropland areas may not host commercially lucrative wildlife species that can be targeted in the guise of culling.

Does the welfare lobby offer any solution to conflict?

They argue that man-animal conflict can be controlled through non-invasive means, including fencing crop fields, planting chilli around cropland, creating buffer areas between croplands and the forest’s edge, selecting non-edible crops, providing adequate and regular compensation for crop loss, etc.

Do these measures work?

Not always. Fencing merely shifts conflict to the next accessible cropland. Used extensively, it creates an enclosure for wildlife. Even selection of crops that traditionally repelled animals does not seem to work any longer. For example, farmers in Sirmour, Himachal Pradesh, now complain that monkeys raid garlic fields that they avoided until recently.

Other measures are mostly long-term and can keep a check on conflict only in situations where crop damage is still reasonable. But in pockets where the situation is already out of hand, the only option is often to reduce the number of habitual crop-raiders.

Isn’t that cruel and against our culture?

Killing should only be the last resort, and people themselves do not ask for such extreme steps until it seems their own survival is at stake. A huge rural population in India still has a cultural bond with nature. It is because of them, and not so much the city activists, that a sizeable population of wildlife still survives. It is counter-productive to test their tolerance with unreasonable demands.

But is culling conservation?

Very much so. By law, wildlife are protected because they are too few and require protection. But when certain pockets see a population boom in herbivores, farmers cannot wait for predators to reoccupy such areas and carry out population control for them. The absence of lawful intervention often triggers retaliation by illegal means. In anger, farmers may indiscriminately target wildlife, including those that may not be causing any problem.

So is it basically animal welfare versus wildlife conservation?

Both groups are pro-nature, but the dichotomy is obvious. Conservationists are concerned about the integrity of the ecosystem and the future of entire species. Animal welfare activists believe that every individual animal is ethically indispensable, even at the cost of putting entire species at risk.

The two perspectives can meet halfway. With, say, tigers, the occasional ‘problem animal’ can be packed off to a zoo — it makes no difference to wildlife conservation but satisfies welfare concerns. But it may not feasible to deal with hundreds of nilgai, monkeys or boars by any means other than culling.

The bottomline?

Even Noah’s ark could not save every individual animal. This generation will be lucky if it can save the species.

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  1. A
    Anand Khatavkar
    Jun 13, 2016 at 9:28 am
    The current Env. Minister is not fit for the job.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Who was the dumbo to arrange for this write-up and on what basis did he write this? Wasn't relocation to other sanctuaries possible? lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;In todays scenario, what separates the DEVELOPED WORLD and India is environment, potion and education. Env ministry is not a child's play. It's about what life the government plans to give to gchildren of country. I shall also like to add some questions to the environment minster;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;1. what are the steps taken by Env Ministry for protection of biodiversity in western ghats?lt;br/gt;2. what are the norms laid down for employment into various Pollution Control Board's across India?lt;br/gt;3. what steps have been taken by Env Ministry for prevention of desertification of India?lt;br/gt;4. what steps taken by Env Ministry to prevent loss of forest cover by forest fires?lt;br/gt;5. Is urban pollution a MYTH? Do we have norms for min forest / tree cover in urban areas.lt;br/gt;6. Why can't India have a single window EPA - Environmental Protection Agencylt;br/gt;7. What is the govt doing for over loss of agricultural land to unplanned urbanization and why there are no environmental norms for urbanization?lt;br/gt;8. Why is govt. not giving permission for traffics only through flyovers on highway stretches in forest lands?lt;br/gt;9. What are the Environmental policies for the country.lt;br/gt;10. Can the country move away from considering sugarcane lands as a forest cover and give correct forest land calculation to global potion?
    Reply
  2. M
    Meghna Banerjee
    Jun 13, 2016 at 5:14 pm
    The author has mentioned that alternate measures do not work. Can the author substantiate with data that culling is the most effective method and works better than other options? Otherwise the w argument in favour of culling seems flawed.
    Reply
  3. B
    b khosla
    Jun 13, 2016 at 7:10 am
    Did stray dogs come from forests? Did rats come from forests? Where did the pigeons come from. In Delhi 50 years ago there were no pigeons. Now they are in hordes and have driven all the other birds like the sparrows minahs and koels. Just because Indians think offering made to monkeys and pigeons will open the gates of heaven. NGOs and activist express their profound knowledge and piety they talk this nonsense.
    Reply
  4. S
    Saurabh Sharma
    Jun 13, 2016 at 5:27 am
    The problem with culling is that there are some really inhumane ways being followed here. Has anyone seen animals being shot to death? They almost never die instantaneously. Rather, they get shot in limbs or different parts of body. They run and hide in places where they bleed to death, over several hours or days. The animal right activists have got it wrong by not recognizing a need for potion control of these animals. In the wild, there are carnivorous animals which keep them in check. Even in the wild, if herbivores are kept unchecked, they often clear lands of all vegetations, leading to an environmental problem.lt;br/gt;Those culling need to consider more humane ways to kill the animals. More importantly, STERILIZE them so that you don't have to kill them later. If they have to be killed, do so in a humane and painless way. Humans don't have a right to take any one's life, but we have an even lesser right to traumatize them before killing them.
    Reply
  5. R
    Ram Singh Sachan
    Jun 13, 2016 at 4:59 am
    The wild life conservation can't proceed at the cost of human livelihood.
    Reply
  6. R
    Ram Singh Sachan
    Jun 13, 2016 at 5:00 am
    The wild life conservation can't proceed at the cost of human livelihood.
    Reply
  7. H
    Hrnakshi Joashi
    Jun 13, 2016 at 5:19 am
    Always good to have a healthy debate although I lean towards Maneka's views... I don't see why P.J. didn't make a single attempt to rehabilitate the wildlife where it wouldn't be a threat...lt;br/gt;Besides, its the humans that actually compete for resources
    Reply
  8. J
    Java.id
    Jun 13, 2016 at 3:23 am
    Good to see a balanced perspective in the Indian media, which is usually dominated by bias or uninformed arguments. Officially protected species like the macaque monkeys and feral pigs are devastating agriculture and lives of the poor in Himalayas. Seasonal culling is needed to check this proliferating menace.
    Reply
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