ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hunting for Consensus

"Problem animals" such as tigers and leopards are routinely eliminated by state government machineries in an act that is represented as the "hunting down" of "man-eaters", and framed as a public service. In a country where hunting is illegal, it is not the final elimination of the animal, but the process of hunting which is a method of territorialising the animal and human audiences. As seen in two recent incidents of hunting man-eating leopards in north India, this process invokes anachronistic hunting imagery. Elimination of problem animals should be done without fuss and spectacle, so that larger wildlife conservation aims are not obfuscated.

The “hunting down” of a “man-eating leopard” in Thunag, Himachal Pradesh recently made front-page news (“Man-eater Hunted Down, Himachal Villagers Breathe Easy”, The Hindu, 12 August 2013). Subsequent coverage has revealed the forest department’s plans to hunt more man-eating leopards in the area. Ten days later, another wild leopard was “hunted down” on charges of being a man-eater (“Hyderabad Hunter Kills Another Leopard”, Deccan Chronicle, 22 August 2013). This has been followed by conservationists expressing protest over two aspects: one, the means of identifying man-eating predators, and two, the metaphor of publicly hunting such animals, in a country where hunting wild animals is banned. In the backdrop are the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA) guidelines on identifying a man-eating tiger or leopard (2013), which emphasise that no “award or reward” can be declared for killing a man-eating animal, attempting therefore to decouple the necessary elimination of problem animals from unnecessary pomp and show. Particularly in the light of increasing reportage of human-wildlife conflict, there is a need to relook the use of and discourse around the term hunting and the symbology behind the elimination of problem animals.

The Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972 forbids hunting of wild animals, except those that are deemed vermin. The Act is explicit in what it means by hunting: this includes “capturing, killing, poisoning, snaring and trapping of any wild animal, and every attempt to do so”. The law is also abundantly clear on associated activities which are classified as hunting: “injuring or destroying or taking any part of the body of any animal or, in the case of wild birds or reptiles, damaging the eggs of birds or reptiles or disturbing the eggs or nests of birds or reptiles”. However, in the case of an animal becoming dangerous to human life or property, the same Act allows the killing of the animal, once the requisite permissions from the chief wildlife warden are obtained. Thus, the act of killing an animal declared a “man-eater” by the state forest department is perfectly legal. More problematic however is the question of how to represent this activity.

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