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Friday, February 26, 2021

Telangana govt empowers sarpanches to decide on wild boar culling, order triggers fear of misuse

While the latest order is hailed by some as need of the hour, others criticize the same as an open invitation to indiscriminate hunting that could impact the wildlife adversely.

Written by Rahul V Pisharody | Hyderabad |
Updated: January 27, 2021 6:27:13 pm
A press release from the department said that some members of the panel of shooters met forest officials in Aranya Bhavan, the department headquarters, voicing their concern over the demand for money in lieu of culling wild pigs. (Representational Image)

The Telangana government has empowered sarpanches of gram panchayats to decide on culling of wild pigs that damage agriculture crops outside the Protected Areas and Reserve Forest areas. The government order issued Tuesday notifies over 12,720-odd gram sarpanches as ‘Honorary Wildlife Warden’ for this purpose for one year.

While the latest order is hailed by some as need of the hour, others criticize the same as an open invitation to indiscriminate hunting that could impact the wildlife adversely.

As per the orders, the sarpanch can act only on receipt of a written complaint from a farmer, following which he/she along with a group of elders from the village have to investigate and ascertain if the situation warrants hunting. The same has to be documented in the Panchnama and communicated to the forest department’s field officer. For culling wild pigs, services of hunters enlisted by Telangana Forest Department or any local expert shooter with a valid license for possession of firearms can be availed, states the order which also clarifies that no wild pigs found in protected areas, reserved forest areas and other government lands shall be hunted.

Regarding the carcass of wild pigs, the order directs disposal by burial only after completion of Panchanama by the sarpanch and the forest staff. No part of the hunted wild pigs, like meat, skin, tushes, trophy, etc shall be used by any person, states the order. In turn, the forest range officer is directed to furnish information on wild pigs killed in his area every month to the Chief Wildlife Warden through the DFOs and FDOs concerned. It is also clear in the order the responsibility for casualties and losses, human or property remains on the person shooting at wild pigs and not the forest department.

Not first in Telangana

It was in 2008 that such an order was first issued in the state, then the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, empowering the district forest officers (DFOs) to use their discretion in ordering culling of wild pigs that damage agriculture crops. The department also has a panel of over 25 expert shooters who offer their services free of charge. Over the years, the menace of wild boars have increased manifold all across the state, and with DFOs not easily accessible for farmers in remote villages, the government has issued the latest order, forest officials said.

Wild boars are known to be prolific breeders and each litter could be a dozen to 20 piglets. As the wild boars increase in numbers and move around outside forest areas, farmers desperate to protect their crops have been laying live electric wires, snares, and traps to kill the wild animal. In several instances, other animals or even humans have fallen victim to these wires. The issue has been persistent for a long time in the erstwhile districts of Adilabad, Karimnagar, and Mahabubnagar.

Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, the secretary of Wildlife Tranqui Force (WTF) terms the latest order as a much necessary step from the farmer’s point of view but a challenge in itself for the forest department. “It is a good order but as a conservationist, I fail to understand how the government will keep a tab on the number of boars killed. Every sarpanch in Telangana has a wild boar problem. Now he can give an order. The provision will be overused. The department will lose control over culling as they are understaffed,” Khan, a noted marksman and a conservationist for four decades, told indianexpress.com.

According to him, though a similar order existed since 2008, the powers were used by forest officials only in cases of tremendous pressure to act. “The earlier order was silent on the funds required for burying the wild animal. By allowing vermins and wild boars, we are making our own people enemies of the forest,” he added. Another issue he cites is that forest areas are not clearly demarcated and the latest order leaves everything to the discretion of the Sarpanch.

A forest official, on condition of anonymity, said that the department had proposed to the Central government to include wild boars in Schedule 5 under the category of vermins for a limited period under Section 62 of the Wildlife Protection Act. Once declared vermin, one is free to kill the wild animal in whichever manner deemed fit and there is no restriction on consumption of its meat.

“Somehow the Centre was not in favour of a declaration of any animal as vermin. The 59th meeting of the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) directed states to explore the institution of Panchayat Raj and empower them to order culling of animals that are a threat to humans and property, record it properly. All the other provisions of the Wildlife Act such as no one can eat the meat, or no one can kill the animal in a reserved forest, etc, will apply. Our order is as per the GoI guidelines,” the official said.

Khan also pointed that wild boars formed an important prey base for leopards and large scale culling could affect the food chain. “Today, more than 40 percent leopards in Telangana are outside forest areas and these piglets form more than 50 percent of their prey base. If they are going to be culled indiscriminately, there would be no food left for leopards. They will enter human habitations, triggering more man-animal conflict,” he said.

According to the official, the issue is not only about damage to crops. “In the last five-six years, there have been more deaths due to wild boars than carnivores in Telangana. We have seen only two human deaths because of tigers in the last 10 years, whereas 20 to 30 cases of human deaths due to wild boars have occured.”

Admitting that no district in Telangana is free from the menace of wild boars, the official added, “The guidelines are very clear. A register will be maintained recording permissions given, animals killed and then buried. It is a balanced order in the present circumstances keeping the safety and needs of people as well as the animal which is not declared vermin.”

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