News Alerts
prev next

Don’t cull them for no reason

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

The Environment Ministry is increasingly seen as one that understands nothing about the environment, wildlife, water preservation, pollution control. Every vested interest in India has understood this and is trying to take advantage. Every local environmental officer has, by now, lost interest in his duties and takes/gives orders that are bad in law and environment.
The Chief Wildlife Warden of Andaman and Nicobar islands, the man who is supposed to be protecting the wild animals on the islands, has actually written — the first time in India’s history that a CWW has done so — to the Ministry of Environment, asking to kill the salt water crocodiles on the grounds that a few tourists have been attacked.
Salt water crocodiles are severely endangered and have been given the highest protection in the Act – Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. This Tarun Coomar wants this protection removed so that he can kill them. One interesting aside is that crocodile skin sells for lakhs. It is smuggled outside the country and sold to make handbags and shoes. Many requests for “culling” have usually got this background and someone is doing business there as well.
Why do I say this? Because the proposal has no basis in science or fact. The Chief Wildlife Warden is lying through his teeth. Records reveal that only 23 attacks by salt water crocodiles have taken place in the last 13 years, and none of them have been in a single place. They are spread out over the vast archipelago. In truth, the tourism industry wants the land to build hotels and take over the beaches. So the LG and the CWW take on the role of “ facilitation agents”. Even the figures they have given, of the number of Salties, are far more than what actually exist (and that too, without a head count). Field biologists state that the numbers, being published by the administration at Andaman and Nicobar islands, have been falsely stated at 1,700 . There are only about 500 individuals. Are these 500 crocs, spread out and so vital to the survival of the inhabitants of the ocean, going to be killed so hoteliers can destroy the coast?
Here is the proof of “ facilitation” . The “Expert Committee” set up by the local administration to find a “solution” to these rare crocodile attacks has no scientific people on it, no field researchers, no environmentalists. But one of the members is the head of the Andaman Association of Tour Operators. This is his statement “The fear has impacted both the tourism and fisheries industries, which are our main source of revenue” said M. Vinod. “Can you imagine a tourist visiting an island destination and not going onto the beach and indulging in water sports?” And if an entire species has to be wiped out so that a tourist can go water skiing, so be it ?
Saltwater crocodiles are millions of years old. They are the largest of all living reptiles and can reach 7 metres in length. They are found in small groups in South-east Asia, Northern Australia. In India they are native to the Sunderbans, Bhitarkarnika in Odisha, and the mangrove forests of the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Before the Act was made in 1972, they were poached for their skin, meat and as trophies. The species was reduced to 31 individuals when the Government of India launched a special conservation effort in 1975 , Project Crocodile, and they were given ‘Schedule 1’ protection .
While the preservation of the species, in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, is counted as a success story, the fact is that salt water crocodiles have taken decades to even reach these small numbers. It has taken almost 45 years to grow to about 500 animals. Now, if killing takes place (and if my suspicions are right, they will kill 300 and then claim they have killed 30) they will never revive again, because the gene pool is already stretched, they are all related to each other and, as hotels and tourists fill up the beaches, more and more eggs will be lost. The move has attracted international concern. There is a great deal of literature on how to deal with man-crocodile conflict, and wildlife agencies are happy to provide the information – except that the local government doesn’t want to know.
This is what can be done to protect humans and salties:
Make a thorough study to conduct a risk assessment in the areas where crocodile-human conflicts have occurred.
Geo-tag the crocodiles to understand, and/or track their movement patterns.
Create safe swimming zones, creating exclusive crocodile zone (wilderness areas where crocodiles take precedence).
Identify rogue crocodiles and put them into captive animal shelters (tourists pay to watch crocodiles as in Australia).
Coexistence zone (where people can be helped with enclosures, fish disposal areas, etc.) and exclusive tourist zone, where there is proper netting for people to swim with regular patrolling and monitoring.
Put up warning signs at crocodile conflict zones.
Raise awareness among local communities, so that they do not see crocodiles as a threat, and secure and monitor tourist bathing areas on a regular basis.

Down-listing the animal under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and removing the safeguards of a Schedule I species, will severely jeopardise the fate of this species across the country, as it could open up the flood gates for other states (like Sundarbans in West Bengal, Bhitarkarnika in Orissa) to seek permission for culling of salt water crocodiles on similar grounds, depending on which crocodile skin traders have moved in, and how much they pay the local officers.

(To join the animal welfare movement contact [email protected], www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

You might also like More from author

Comments