Congress MLA wants rampaging animals to be shot down. Forest Minister Saseendran puts his foot down

Thiruvananthapuram: Congress's Peravoor MLA Sunny Joseph is understandably agitated. In the last five years, 10 people in his constituency in Kannur district, mostly tribals, were killed by wild elephants. In the whole of Kerala, 120 people died in human-wildlife conflict in the last five years.

Inside the Assembly on Thursday, therefore, the Congress MLA provided an angry man's solution to the problem: Declare the intruders from the wild as vermins and shoot them down.

For Sunny Joseph, wildlife attack is an urgent issue. It was only recently that a 38-year-old man in his constituency, Justin, and his wife who lived some eight kilometres away from the forest fringe were attacked by a wild elephant. Justin was killed and his wife, Alphonsa, is just about sustained by ventilator support.

Joseph said the culling of wildlife was now an accepted practice. It was done in the Yellow Stone Park in the US, where 600 wild gaurs were killed, he said. Australia killed kangaroos, the country's national animal, when its population exploded so much that it could not be contained within its forests and national parks and emerged as a major threat for motorists and children playing in parks.

In Kerala, wild boars are declared vermins in affected areas and those with gun licenses are armed with shoot at sight powers.

Sunny Joseph, while moving an adjournment motion in the Assembly, acknowledged that the wildlife was protected under the Wildlife Protection Act. "But humans, too, have their rights. Their right to life and livelihood is a fundamental right, preserved in Article 21, the Right to Life and Property," Joseph said.

Forest minister A K Saseendran but had broader concerns. "I have been appointed as the forest minister to protect wildlife, " the minister said. "As part of the government, I have to protect the lives of both humans and wildlife. I cannot sanction unbridled killing of wild animals," he said.

Opposition Leader V D Satheesan, however, did not take Sunny Joseph's extreme position. He, like the minister, called for "sustainable coexistence".

But he said destructive wild boars should be allowed to be shot down in areas where there was rampant crop destruction. An interim High Court order also has recommended this.

He, however, backed the forest minister's argument that culling of wild animals was not a lasting solution. At the most, only a temporary one.

Global experience, too, bear this out. For instance in France, where there was a ten-fold rise in the killing of wild boars, there has been no let up in the increase of the wild boar population.

Instead, Satheesan suggested a slew of measures, many of them adopted in other states, to prevent wildlife from straying out of the forests. One, he said all elephant corridors within our forests should be restored. Two, he said, like in Orissa, drones could be employed to scatter seeds of crops that the megafauna consumed. Three, discourage the planting of crops that wildlife were attracted along forest fringes. Four, create more drinking water sources inside forests. Five, a special insurance scheme for farmers most vulnerable to wildlife attack.

Despite his fury, Sunny Joseph also admitted that the wildlife did not have adequate space within the forests. There are over 8000 wild elephants in Kerala. He said each elephant required a territory of at least 25 sq kms. "Such area is not available as a good chunk of our forests have been taken over by teak and eucalyptus plantations, " he said.

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