Representative photo: Sebastian Pociecha/Unsplash
- We may have hunted more wildlife during the 2020 lockdowns, a new survey suggests.
- The hunt for household consumption has increased, while the need for sports and recreation may also have played a role.
- Improving livelihoods and food security during times of socio-economic upheaval could be crucial to minimizing the impact on wildlife.
Palakkad: Wildlife experts believe we may have hunted more wildlife during 2020 pandemic-induced closures, survey finds. Hunting for household consumption increased during this period; sports and hobbies were also motivators for hunting, according to the online effort.
These findings suggest that measures to improve livelihoods and food security during such periods of socio-economic upheaval could be crucial to minimizing the impact on wildlife at such times. But we may also need to look at hunting differently in such contexts, say environmental anthropologists.
The COVID-19 outbreak across the world in 2020 has seen governments enforce strict ‘lockdowns’. India was no different. A series of closures between March and May 2020 kept people out of their homes for most of that time. Day laborers are among the hardest hit.
For example, data from Lucknow showed that the average number of working days per month for most workers fell from 21 days before COVID-19 to nine days per month after the lockdown, Deepanshu Mohan, director of the Center for New Economics Studies at OP Jindal Global University and colleagues wrote in a May 2021 article.
This loss of livelihood has significantly affected incomes. Food security, in turn, has taken a hit for many vulnerable sections of society. Nearly half of nearly 5,000 respondents to an April-May 2020 survey across 12 states said they did not have enough money to buy even a week’s basic necessities. Hunger increased during lockdown.
Some wildlife species seemed to thrive due to less human disturbance. As pollution decreased, the rivers were cleaner, others claimed. But media reports in India have also reported several cases of wildlife hunting. According to Down to earthTamil Nadu Forestry Minister Dindigul C. Srinivasan claimed the government levied a fine of Rs 40.97 lakh for wildlife offenses (including trespassing and poaching inside forests ) in the first month of lockdown.
The Dharmapuri Forest Division alone collected Rs 11 lakh, according to the report.
A team of researchers from organizations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society-India (WCS-India) conducted an online survey between March and June 2020 to record the perceptions of wildlife experts who were on the ground during the lockdown. Respondents included approximately 100 law enforcement officials, wildlife researchers and conservation practitioners from 23 states.
Based on indicators such as direct observation of hunting, hearing gunshots, finding snares and more, more than half of those surveyed felt that hunting had increased during the lockdown by compared to before. Areas where this occurred included reserved forests, village revenue lands and protected areas in 43 districts along the Western Ghats, Central India, North India (including Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir) and northeast India (such as Arunachal Pradesh).
The hunt for household consumption increased during confinement, felt by 53% of respondents. The need for recreation and sport has also fueled this increase in hunting, many said. “This was also corroborated by video hunting of our media analyses,” the study authors noted. A third of those surveyed believed that a lack of law enforcement had led to the increase, as had an interruption in the food supply. However, the results were also contradictory in that some respondents felt that there was also no decline in enforcement by agencies such as state forest departments.
The study’s lead author, Uttara Mendiratta, agreed that while this perception of hunting was contradictory, it could have been an artifact of local or regional differences in enforcement. The increase in hunting cases could have meant that even full-strength law enforcement agencies might not have been able to cope with the sudden increase in hunting during the lockdown, it said. -she adds.
The current study “used an innovative approach that was able to tackle the logistical constraints” of data collection during the pandemic, and is a “comprehensive reflection of the impact of COVID lockdowns on bushmeat hunting. in India,” commented researcher Shreya Sethi, who has studied the economics of wildlife crime and was not involved in the study. “[It] can be extended to include field data such as poaching records from sampling sites to corroborate the conclusions and perceptions of wildlife experts.
Speaking directly to hunters over the phone, where possible, would also have helped to better understand the problem, noted Ambika Aiyadurai, an assistant professor of humanities and social sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar who has studied indigenous hunting practices. in the northeast.
Additionally, the finding of an increase in recreational hunting during lockdown should be treated with caution as it could be very localized and limited to certain individuals, she noted. Indeed, it’s a caveat the authors also acknowledge in their study: “..the coarse scale of our data cannot reflect local nuances and tends toward oversimplification,” they write.
Food security issue
The perception survey highlights two important points that we don’t recognize when it comes to wildlife hunting, said Mendiratta, Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Program Manager at WCS-India. One is the possible recreational aspect of the hunt, she said. The science of yarn. “Another is the lack of food security at a time of social unrest and migration…during festivals that involved eating meat, butcher shops were closed. So people who could access wild meat did.
There are also many extremely vulnerable sections of society who, when faced with different stressors – such as climate or ecological crises, or economic shocks such as not getting a daily wage – will go from resources purchased from the natural resource market, Aiyadurai said.
“Forest resources then become a very important fallback for these communities,” she said. “Pandemic or not, people will turn to wild resources during such extreme shocks.”
These are communities that are often not “visible” to us, she added. There are several levels of invisibility, such as the urban poor, migrants, women, dalits and tribal communities who are considered ‘lower in the hierarchy’.
There is also an invisibility in academic spaces, where there is no discussion of these extremely vulnerable and stigmatized communities (like people who have been labeled as denoted criminal tribes), Aiyadurai said. The outlook is also very wildlife-focused, and there is no emphasis on the social sciences or human ecology that deal with the study of interactions between people and their environment.
Moreover, vulnerable communities are easy targets, she added. When they hunt wildlife, it is much more “visible” than the negative ecological effects caused by the construction of a dam or a major tourist project.
“Hunting is seen as ‘primitive’ and ‘barbaric’,” she added.
We need to move on from this and see hunting in a more “humane” way – as a reaction to the extreme resource shortages in this context – rather than just in its legal spirit, she added.