Our instinctive reaction to animals in the wild is, consequently, one of fear; and nothing engenders violence so much as fear, especially fear fertilized by ignorance and weaned on stupidity.
It took six hours to wound, maim and finally kill the tigress. She was already trapped in a net. The handful of forest officers present could not control the 5000-strong mob. The tigress, they said, had killed their cattle, and even a villager. And so they stoned and clubbed her to death. And then rejoiced in their bloodlust with a victory parade.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 defines ‘hunting’ very broadly, and it includes this kind of killing.1 Spread over ten closely printed pages, the act’s schedules give a glimpse of the sweep of India’s biodiversity.2 But unlicensed hunting invites little effective punishment: at best, a 3-year jail term and Rs.25,000 fine; and for some species like the tiger, 3-7 year jail term and fine not less than Rs.10,000.3 Imprisonment sentences are even more rare than the tiger.
One would imagine that in an area that is tiger habitat a killing like this would invite the severest punishment. It does not. The incident occurred in the Bhakrutola area near Rajnandgaon on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border. The tigress may have been the one recently released in the Navegaon National Park in Maharashtra’s Gondia district, part of the Churia forest range. The Wildlife Act limits a higher punishment (same sentence of 3-7 years, but a Rs.50,000 fine) if the offence is in relation to the core area of tiger reserve.4 This was outside the core area, on the periphery or even outside the reserve. Therefore, the stricter provision will not apply. For the law, it seems to matter where a tiger is killed rather than the fact it is killed at all, and there is no explaining this. What difference does it make whether a tiger is killed in a core area or outside it? Geography is no mitigating circumstance.
In any case, with an entire community guilty of slaughter, these statutory provisions are meaningless. Nobody will be successfully prosecuted; no fines will be imposed. We will hear the usual excuse: “enforcement is the problem”.
And our tiger population is down by one.
An arriviste in the natural order of things, man is the only creature that needs to constantly expand his physical area of domination to survive. Conflicts with other living beings are inevitable. That does not mean that animals must always be sacrificed to human need, because human need — unlike that of animals — is insatiable. In this case, it is still unclear whether the tigress was ‘introduced’ into the wild from a long period of captivity. The overwhelming evidence is that these experiments do not work (and, knowing this, three tigers in Bor have been confined to a small enclosure for two years). As neighbouring villages and communities grow, demanding more land for pasture and field, tiger habitats shrink; and with that goes the tiger’s natural prey.
The problem is therefore often of our own making, and our legal system has no means of addressing it. How do you, by statute, inculcate responsibility, especially to the future? Providing for paltry punishments is insufficient deterrent, and it is also insufficient to only provide deterrence. If wildlife habitats are to be secured, then they have to be secured from us. That raises complex questions of relocation, always an expensive and traumatic business. In itself, relocation is no guarantee against conflict, and that is where our wildlife laws need a major overhaul: it must be accompanied with more authority and power to field officers, many of whom are dedicated and committed and work against great odds, more training, equipment and personnel. It is unrealistic to expect that four officers will ever be able to control a crowd of 5000.
Apart from the sheer emotive wallop of seeing animals in the wild, they are reminders of human limitations and incapabilities in design: therefore, the “immortal hand or eye” that framed its “fearful symmetry”. We do not perhaps need all of them merely to survive; but living is more than mere survival. Devastate comes from the Latin devastare and vastare, to lay waste, to ravage; and this root is shared by a legal term in the law of trusts, devastavit. This word refers to mismanagement and waste by a trustee or administrator, by direct abuse, neglect, maladministration — any act lacking in good faith and diligence. Trust law makes a trustee liable for such losses. In some canons of environmental law and in our Constitution we see a pale shadow of this concept, without the attendant liability. It is a concept that is altogether missing from our forest and wildlife statutes and it is time that we reworked those laws around this concept, or one very like it. We are guardians and trustees of our planet, and we must hold ourselves liable every time we abuse our charge.
Line of Rangers Holding Tusks of Killed Elephants, Amboseli 2011 Nick Brandt | Selected New Work 2010-2011
Portrait of Elephant in Dust, Amboseli 2011 Nick Brandt | Selected New Work 2010-2011
Cheetah and Cubs, Maasai Mara, 2003 Nick Brandt | On This Earth 2000-2004 Vol.1
In Africa, Nick Brandt takes the most astounding monochromatic images of animals in the wild. Among his many accomplishments, Brandt was once a music video director. He directed Michael Jackson’s Earth Song video and, while on location in Tanzania, found his calling. Now, using a large format camera and just two lenses, no zooms or telephotos, he gets dangerously close to his subjects. In every one of his photographs, perhaps because they are so stripped of colour, there is an overwhelming sense of loss and impending devastation. The photograph of an endless row of gigantic ivory tusks; the bleak stare of a lion. There is nothing cute or precious about these images. There are few humans in the images. But the hand of man is in every one, and it is not a gentle hand.
In India, part of the explanation for our violent reactions to animals may also be cultural. Historical edicts and teachings proscribe killing; but there are also ancient texts that tell of the most wanton ecological destruction (the burning of the Khandava forest to found Indraprastha, for instance: “no living thing escaped”). Our instinctive reaction to animals in the wild is, consequently, one of fear; and nothing engenders violence so much as fear, especially fear fertilized by ignorance and weaned on stupidity. Those into beating, torturing, mutilating and killing animals need have no worries. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act prescribes the terrifying fine of Rs.10-50; Rs.100 for repeat offenders.5 That’s less than the price of a movie ticket.
We should carry in our heads images of the animals we kill to remind us of what it means to be human. The eyes of these dead are often open. They do not judge us for what we have done to them. But, if we look close enough, there is perhaps that most unanswerable of questions: not why they died, but why they ever lived.
§9. It is even more baffling that the Ministry of Environment and Forest has not bothered to make available online an updated version of the Act with all its amendments. The version on its website is several years out of date. It does not include the important 2006 amendments for tiger conservation. ↩
It took [six hours to wound, maim and finally kill the tigress]. She was already trapped in a net. The handful of forest officers present could not control the 5000-strong mob. The tigress, they said, had killed their cattle, and even a villager. And so they stoned and clubbed her to death. And then rejoiced in their bloodlust with a victory parade.
: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-09-25/nagpur/30200222_1_tigress-umargunda-forest-officials "'Chhattisgarh villagers pound Maharashtra tigress to death', by Vijay Pinjarkar & Supriya Sharma, Times of India, 25 September 2011"