Right when we thought the COVID-19 lockdown has brought to a halt, at least temporarily, to the hunting menace, such incidents are on the rise in the northeast states of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
Taking serious note of this sudden spurt in hunting activities, both the state governments have issued ‘warnings’ to those who indulge in the illegal activity.
Several videos went viral on various social media platforms in the past several days across the region where people were seen flaunting their prey before feasting on them.
In Arunachal Pradesh, a group of people were seen roaming around with a full-grown king cobra which they later ate. Many suspected that due to the lockdown, such incidents of hunting have increased.
The individuals who appeared in the video were heard saying they didn’t have any foodgrains left in their homes. “So we went to the jungle looking for something, and found this (the king cobra),” said one of the hunters. However, this couldn’t be verified by The Federal independently.
After the video went viral and several news outlets published the news, Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, who is from Arunachal Pradesh, reacted on Twitter. “… please don’t make stories without verification! I’m dead against hunting and killing of animals so is the State government. But to say that there’s no rice left for the people leading to killing of cobra is rubbish! No one hunts snakes for consumption in Arunachal Pradesh,” Rijiju tweeted on April 20.
Dear @ndtv please don't make stories without verification! I'm dead against hunting and killing of animals so is the State Govt. But to say that there's no rice left for the people leading to killing of cobra is rubbish! No one hunts snakes for consumption in Arunachal Pradesh. https://t.co/s07bX1rbEq
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) April 20, 2020
The local media believe the situation is rather grim. Arunachal Times (AT), one of the popular newpaper in the state, on April 20, reported the incident saying that hunting has increased in the state and it has become ‘unmanageable’ by the forest department quoting some unnamed official from the department.
The report said that wildlife hunting is widely accepted in the state as it is tied to tribal rituals and cultural practices.
“We don’t have control over community forests, but now it has reached the areas under the forest department. The lockdown has come as a curse to the forests as many who habitually do not hunt are also out in the forests with sophisticated weapons,” a forest official was quoted by the AT in the report.
The forest officials, however, have identified the people who killed the snake in Papum Pare district. The search operation is on for these three individuals.
The king cobra is a protected reptile under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and killing it can lead to imprisonment of up to 5 years or fine of Rs 25,000 or both.
Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu condemned the incident and said action would be taken against those who indulge in illegal wildlife hunting.
Journalists, who reported about the crime in Arunachal Pradesh are being threatened by the hunters.
Tongam Rina, deputy editor of AT who reported the story was threatened of physical harm on social media. In fact, Rina has been receiving threats ever since she wrote about the killing of snake.
Wildlife conservationists also expressed their concerns over such incidents. “Earlier, the perspective was different. People used to kill animals for food. Nowadays, some people indulge in these kind of activities just to flaunt. This has to be condemned and denounced,” Jayaditya Purkayastha, a researcher and wildlife activist based in Guwahati, told The Federal.
Similar incidents of hunting were also reported from Nagaland on April 19. Though Nagaland received accolades for its exemplary conservative initiatives for Amor Falcon birds, the recent incidents of hunting have drawn severe criticism.
In one of the videos making rounds on social media, a large python is being carried in a motorbike and some hunters flaunted their preyed animals.
Nagaland’s Morung Express newspaper reported that one person in the video as saying (roughly translated from Nagamese) “We are observing lockdown festival. We will kill the animals that come our way. We are staying here for one week, and in two days, we have killed these animals. We are near a river and we will hunt more”.
In February this year, in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak, Nagaland had issued an advisory asking people to refrain from activities like hunting, which, it said, increases the chances of contact of wild animals and wild animal products with humans.
Four of the suspects have already surrendered in Nagaland. Wildlife crime bureau in-charge in the state Tokaho Kinimi said that those responsible would be penalised under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. He also said that there was an increase in wildlife hunting activities due to the lockdown.
Wildlife conservation activist and founder of the Nagaland Wildlife Biodiversity Conservation Trust, Bano Haralu, termed it unfortunate and said there is a need for bringing some change in the Article 371 A to stop crimes against wildlife.
As per the Article 371 A, land and resources of the state belong to the people and the government has no direct control over them.
“Ironically, Nagaland was applauded for its conservation initiatives and look what has happened. There are other incidents where other hunting incidents have taken place by villagers within their vicinity. In areas like these, implementing the Wildlife Protection Act becomes very difficult. Because, it coincides with the Article 371(A). So, the village council is left with its wisdom to handle these kind of incidents. The Article 371(A) now needs to incorporate more sensitivity and prohibition on wildlife hunting. Land and resources belong to the people. But, you stop being the owner,” Haralu told The Federal.
Haralu, who is hailed for adopting conservation initiatives for Amur Falcon birds in Nagaland also said that at the present day, hunting can never be a part of tradition.
“The argument that has always been put forward with hunting as tradition no longer holds water. It’s can’t be a tradition…something that so blatantly violets the balance in nature. I have always said that hunting in Nagaland has always been a macho kind of a practice and lack of recreational opportunity. Hunting was a tradition when it came as survival or protection of their families in the past but it’s no more. It’s absolutely disgusting,” she added.
“For a larger picture, the Nagas must also realise that there was such a big opportunity that came with the conservation success of Amur Falcon. We must scale it up. It can’t just stop with Amur Falcon,” she said.
Meanwhile, in Assam, villagers in Golaghat district killed a leopard on April 17 and decamp with its flesh, skin, claws, tail and teeth.