Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'
We were erroneously told that hunting in Western Arunachal Pradesh was not as prevalent as in the Mishmi and Namdapaha areas of Eastern Arunachal Pradesh, where the tribals are a law unto themselves. Wildlife and bird enthusiasts who flock to these areas, while mourning these abominable hunting practices, don’t seem to care beyond a point.
A shiver went up my spine and I still don’t know if it was the cold drizzle or the gunshot that caused it. Leather-jacketed teenagers cruising on a National Highway in a Maruti car is not an unusual sight! It’s unsettling, however, when they jump out of the car with air guns. During our recent trip to Eaglenest, Arunachal Pradesh, it was heart wrenching to see such teenagers impudently shoot the Long-tailed Sibias we were desperately trying to see and photograph. I could, perhaps, try to understand the state of poor tribals, who with their limited options for nutritious food, hunt for basic sustenance. These kids, however, were upstarts with funky clothes, spouting the latest hairstyles, wielding fancy mobiles and roaming in automobiles. Definitely not the archetypal, ill-clad, malnourished tribal kids!
Frustratingly, all I could do was create a racket and shoo away the birds. One of the cocky youngsters I accosted told me it was their tradition to hunt. If it’s part of their tradition, I told him that they jolly well ought to be barefoot, in traditional costume, and attempt hunting with bows and arrows.
We were also erroneously told that hunting in Western Arunachal Pradesh was not as prevalent as in the Mishmi and Namdapaha areas of Eastern Arunachal Pradesh, where the tribals are a law unto themselves. In the Mishmi Hills, we even saw 5-year olds hunt birds with catapults! Similar practices are prevalent even in the Nicobar islands – in one of the locations we visited, tribals had set up three active traps around the nesting mounds of one of India’s rarest birds, the Nicobar Megapode.
Ordinary citizens like you and me are prohibited under the laws of the land from hunting or poaching our wildlife, and could face punitive legal action. Yet, the tribal communities in the Northeast and Nicobar Islands hunt openly, and like Caesar’s wife, seem to be exempt from the prevailing laws of our country. Ironically, these are areas with unbelievable forest cover – Arunachal Pradesh has 70 % forest cover, while in the Nicobar Islands, it is 99%! Sadly, many of these forests are bereft of bird and animal life (’empty forest syndrome’), and harbour an eerie silence. Hunting also appears to have political overtones, complicating the socio-cultural nature of our tribes.
Our Government doesn’t want to antagonize tribals who may shift their fragile loyalties and forge alliances with the enemy across the border. Others with vested economic interests, such as tourism-based companies, wildlife tour operators, guides and resort owners too don’t want to mess with these ‘lawless’ tribals. I am sure hunting of wildlife does occur clandestinely by miscreants and untoward elements in other parts of the country but in the Northeast we routinely encounter hunters openly on National Highways in broad daylight next to army settlements.
Even wildlife and bird enthusiasts who flock to these areas, while mourning these abominable hunting practices, don’t seem to care beyond a point. The point is, if the authorities turn a blind eye and wildlife enthusiasts pretend to be ignorant or helpless, who is going to raise a voice on behalf of our wildlife? How long do we allow this indiscriminate and overt hunting of our collective Natural heritage?
Don’t ordinary citizens of the rest of the country have any say in this matter? Isn’t there anything we can collectively do to stop this carnage?
Symbolically one of the things I would like to demand is the nationwide ban of catapults. Contrary to public perception, a catapult is not a toy but a hunting weapon in the hands of children. A catapult in childhood changes to the unlicensed air guns for teenagers and licensed rifles and pistols for adults.