Recently an elephant died in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR), Tamil Nadu. The death was caused by a burning tyre thrown at the elephant by some people.
This is not the first instance when a wild animal has been killed due to fire, firecrackers or by a mob with sticks. The violence against wild animals has increased many folds in recent years. But such news gets attention only when a video gets viral or some mainstream media airs it.
There is an urgent need to know the root causes of this increasing threat to wildlife.
Present status of cruelty against wild animals in India:
Before this incident, in June 2020 a pregnant elephant died due to hunger and fatigue. This happened after a local fed a cracker stuffed pineapple to her.
Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, between 2012 and 2016, more than 24000 cases of animal cruelty have been reported in India.
In India, cruelty against wild animals is mainly prevalent in the areas where a man comes in contact with wild animals or vice versa. About 20-25% of people directly derive their livelihood from the forest or the agricultural land in the vicinity.
Why there is a high prevalence of cruelty against wildlife?
First, the prevalence of Illegal wildlife trade: Wild animals in India are hunted for their body parts such as tiger and leopard skins, their bones and other body parts. These products are smuggled at very high prices in markets such as China, South East Asia, Europe and the Gulf.
Second, in India, there is increased pressure on natural resources. This has led to a decrease in wildlife corridors. Wildlife corridors are the lifeline of wild animals. This is resulting in human-animal conflict and conflicts are used to justify violence against wild animals.
Third, The threat to farmers: Farmers in India have only fragmented landholdings (The average farm size in India is only 1.15 hectares). Farmers see wild animals as a threat to their livelihood. They resort to cruelty against animals to protect crops by Electric fencing, poisoned fruits, firecrackers, snare traps, etc.
Fourth, people generally see wild animals as a threat to humanity. Even though wild animals don’t want to harm humans, Human see the wild animal as a threat at the moment they saw the animal.
Laws to stop cruelty against animals in India
“Prevention of cruelty to animals.” and “Protection of wild animals and birds.” are present in Concurrent List (both the Centre and the States have the power to legislate).
- The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972:
First, this Act prohibited the capturing, trapping, baiting, or poisoning of wild animals (even attempting to do) as a punishable offence. The Act prescribes punishments such as 25,000 INR fine or a prison term (up to 7 years) or both.
Second, The Act also makes it unlawful to injure, destroys wild birds or reptiles, damaging their eggs or disturbing their eggs or nests. If the person found guilty he/she can be punished with imprisonment (3 to 7 years) and a fine of Rs 25,000.
Third, the Act established the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau. The Bureau aims to combat organized wildlife crime in the country
2. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960
First, This Act defines “animal” as any living creature other than a human being.
Second, The Act generally focuses on all the animals, but it has certain specific provisions aimed towards the cruelty of wild animals. They are
- Beating, overriding, kicking, torturing, overloading, and causing unnecessary pain to any animal.
- Administering an injurious drug/medicine to any animal.
- Killing or Mutilating any animal in cruel manners such as using strychnine injections.
- Shooting an animal when it is released from captivity.
Third, This Act established the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). The AWBI aims to promote the promotion of animal welfare.
Fourth, the Act does not consider the following acts as cruelty against wildlife.
- Extermination of any animal under the authority of law
- Dehorning/castration of cattle in the prescribed manner,
- Destruction of stray dogs in lethal chambers in the prescribed manner
Challenges in controlling Cruelty against wildlife
First, the Supreme Court has issued a directive to states for setting up a State Animal Welfare Board. But the majority of the states have not formed the state welfare boards yet.
Few states like Maharashtra and Rajasthan formed State Animal Welfare Boards. But in those states, the Boards faces challenges like inadequate budgetary allocation, lack of forest personnel, etc.
Second, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 has few serious lapses. They are,
- The Act doesn’t differentiate between different form of cruelties against animals. For example, the law prescribes similar punishment to the person who kicks a wild animal and the person who killed the wild animal.
- Most serious forms of animal violence receive the maximum punishment of a fine of 50 rupees or imprisonment up to three months or both.
Third, there is a huge difficulty in tracing violators: The wild animal is harmed either in the forest or in farmland. Not every incident is reported or documented. Apart from that, finding proof against the violator is difficult unless there is a witness or media like images/videos.
Fourth, there is a contradiction in the classification of elephants as wild and domesticated: While the WPA, 1972 protects elephants as a wild animal. The administrative policies allow for an ownership exception. For example, there are almost 500 privately owned elephants in Kerala alone.
First, Amending the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act: In this regard in 2011, The AWBI recommended amendments to The PCA Act, that are required to be implemented. The major provisions of the bill include,
- The PCA Act has to move away from a ‘defensive position’ to a more ‘welfare-oriented approach’. It should be done by expanding the definition of animal abuse and empowerment of Animal welfare organizations.
- The PCA Act should multiply the penalty for repeat offenders by a factor of 1,000
Second, State governments have to establish the State Animal Welfare Board. Further, Boards should be allocated adequate finances and manpower.
Third, encouraging farmers to move away from cruel measures to humane methods to protect their crops. Eg: Farmers in Tamil Nadu are making use of the Italian honey bee (natural elephant deterrent). The government can provide technological solutions like radio-collaring, etc to monitor the movement of wild animals.
Fourth, The agriculture and forest departments must cooperate and share the burden of compensation to farmers for crop loss due to wild animals.
Fifth, the government has to involve the civil society, NGOs and local administration in creating awareness. Awareness has to be created about the seasonal migration of animals, Man-wild animal ecosystem balance etc.
Gandhi once mentioned, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. The Cruelty to wild animals is the evidence where human losing humanity. So apart from government initiatives, we also have to understand the seriousness of the issue.