India wildlife clause sparks uproar

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Mumbai: Responding to a recent suggestion in the Draft Wildlife Policy of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoE), conservationists have urged the Indian government to drop the new clause that allows the use of wild species for religious and cultural practices.

The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) along with other NGOs have sent a letter to the ministry to not only drop this clause but have pointed out that “India, an ancient civilization, has been successful in conserving its biodiversity in the past through sustainable lifestyles followed down the ages.”

Moreover, the conservationists say many cultural practices were symbolic in nature but got distorted into unscientific rituals and blind faith.

“The BNHS believes that nature conservation should follow a multi-disciplinary approach and should ensure community participation,” says Atul Sathe, Manager Communications, BNHS. “In order to avoid a confrontation between enforcement authorities and communities, the ‘Draft’ suggests a distinction between hunting and use of wildlife for religious and cultural practices, with appropriate safeguards and cruelty prevention regulations.”

Even though hunting is banned in the country, Sathe says this clause has created deep concern of a possible threat to wildlife species if this suggestion is incorporated. Apart from BNHS, other organizations such as Aaranyak, Wildlife Protection Society of India, TRAFFIC_India and Wildlife Society of Orissa, have also written to the government asking it to reject this suggestion. From their point of view, “This clause will contradict the spirit of the Indian Constitution in terms of ethics and safeguarding the natural wealth of the country.”

More importantly, “Controlled killing of animals has historically fuelled poaching and black markets of wildlife products. This will encourage the existing black market of several threatened species protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act.”

Many threatened species such as owls and pangolins, which are nocturnal and difficult to monitor and protect, will come under danger since the new clause will create loopholes in the laws protecting them, they said.

Practices such as ivory carving, bear dancing, snake ‘charming’ and use of animals for black magic are totally in opposition to scientific temper and ideals of a progressive society. Several such practices have led to cruelty to animals, they point out, which is a result of following rituals without understanding the original philosophy.

One example of a widely practiced ritual in modern times is catching and displaying snakes on the occasion of Nag Panchami, a Hindu tradition that reveres snakes. Though the practice is banned, the original idea was that the festival was celebrated by farmers who conducted rituals in the fields near snake pits. “It did not involve catching snakes but merely showed gratitude to snakes for their important role in controlling rodent and other pests in their fields.

“Another wildlife product for cultural practices is the use of peacock feather fans/brooms in seeking alms by fakirs.”

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