Animals Used As Bogeys

I have never seen a wild boar. I see Nilgais sometimes, magnificent tall blue-grey creatures, in small herds on the edges of small copses.

Both these animals are used as bogeys. They are supposed to be destroying all the crops. They are the main reasons for our lack of food etc. Some politicians go up and down ministries trying to get governments to order these animals to be killed in the name of farmers’ demands. Some state governments have obliged. In fact our Environment Minister was so eager to be “compassionate” to farmers that he wrote a hasty, unthinking letter to the state governments asking them to list all the animals and birds – including elephants and blackbucks – who should be shot, for the good of farmers. Thankfully wiser sense in the states prevailed and he got no answers and a barrage of criticism from the media.

I am bemused by these so called demands through the mouths of politicians. Even when some state governments allow the nilgai and the wild boar to be killed, they are never shot by their supposed victims, the suffering crop growers. They are killed by tourists who pay for the sport of killing wild boar. They are killed by the rich, illegal hunting ex-maharaja types, the lafanga children of property dealers who like dog fighting and making bonfires at night where they drink , roast and eat the meat of wild boar . They are killed as sport by the same people who go on secret weekend killing trips like the Nawab of Pataudi who used to chase blackbuck, shoot at their legs and then slit the throat of the wounded animals. His son Saif Ali Khan was caught doing the same thing. Recently there was a picture in the newspaper of an MLA standing proudly by the dead body of a beautiful nilgai, claiming that he had shot her as social service. It drew nothing but outrage from his own farmers.

So, let me say here , that I simply don’t believe that farmers want either the boar or the nilgai killed. This is simply a convenient excuse for hunters to be able to carry on their dastardly sport.

However, there should be a way to keep nilgai and other wild animals, who are being driven out of their forests by the forest department repeatedly setting the undergrowth on fire during January/February in order to hide their own cutting of trees, out of the fields. Recently the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department had a seminar on how to manage / minimize crop damage by wild animals.

The professional hunters, retired wildlife bureaucrats and the local DFOs, of course demanded killing. Strangely a number of “nawabs” attended the conference (one of them is the “ chief killing officer, Government of Bihar) and predictably wanted slaughter. But the villagers and the wildlife activists, who attended, had so many interesting suggestions based on their traditional knowledge that I thought you might like to hear them and perhaps pass them on :

a.   The Hyderabad agricultural scientist V. Vasudeva Rao has invented a bio-acoustic machine which keeps wild animals away from the fields. The machine is solar powered and simply amplifies the recorded calls of predators such as tigers (even dogs will do) . This machine is being used in the Beijjur panchayat area of Adilabad, Telengana and farmers report that it has been very successful in keeping away animals that would have attacked the maize crops. It costs Rs 25,000 but pays for itself within the year. Similar acoustic repellents can be used.

b.  Using the urine or faeces of tigers, or other carnivores, always works to repel herbivores. (The problem would be – how does one get tiger urine!)

c.  Interspersing maize with chillies or burning chillies around the field keeps elephants away. Honey bee keeping on the periphery of the fields also scares them away.

d.  Planting Lachhka and barseem (alfalfa) as a buffer crop reduces crop raiding by blackbucks.

e.  Mixing the leaves of sitafal (sharifa), Besharam (Ipomoea carnea), cow urine and neem and spraying them over crops, stops animals from eating the crop even if they enter the field.

f.   Trained guard dogs. In their absence dog faeces can be spread on the edges of each field.

g.  Fencing with medicinal plants.   1) Milk thistle (Silbum marianum) not eaten by animals, and of high medicinal value, can be sold for a lot of money every few months.              2) Guggal : almost extinct in India but can be brought in from Pakistan. Makes good fences against animals and can be sold in a few years for medicine.                                             3) Sagargora / Bagad / Gataran / Nirgundi are thorny medicinal plants which form impenetrable barriers on the edges of farmland. The thorns are so dense that birds cannot pass through and there is a high demand for them medicinally. Other plants are opuntia, thuar, rambans, prosopis, ratanjot, castor.

Other suggestions were barbed wire meshing, chain link fencing, mildly electrified fences, trenches, digging pits. These have been tried – especially in Haryana and Orissa - and have led to the killing of large numbers of animals.

It is amazingthat no agricultural university scientists have been involved in finding solutions. There is no mention of crop damage by animals in the National Agricultural Policy. No traditional knowledge has been used or even asked for. And there is a complete lack of data of the actual loss of crops due to wildlife.

Of course, the only permanent way is to rejuvenate the degraded small forests and to stop people from cutting trees illegally and burning them. Also, to forbid the forest department from setting any fires and suspend any local DFO in whose areas fires break out. Each agricultural area has to be told to plant at least 5 lakh trees a year, adjoining and in the middle of existing copses. Only then will the animals stay in their designated areas and leave us in ours. If we do not nurture the traditional tolerance of the farmer communities towards wildlife there is little that we city dwellers can do to protect any animals.

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Maneka Gandhi is an Indian MP, animal rights activist, environmentalist and former model. Maneka Gandhi writes weekly column Heads & Tails for the Kashmir Observer. To join her animal rights movement contact [email protected]

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