Wildlife Watchers

Wildlife hunting in the North East is much more complex than the simple act of killing

It is caught between the complexities of markets, traditions, conservation ethos and the law.

Cultures often take new forms and manifest in different ways. However practices and customs linked to culture take a long time to change. Often they are resistant and slow to change.

Take the case of Pahi (name changed). Although he belongs to a small tribe of about 300 people scattered in 15 villages next to the Sino-Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh in North East India, his story encapsulates the reality of hunting in many states in this region.

When we met him in Anjaw district in 2006, Pahi showed us a compact disc and some brochures published by the Wildlife Protection Society of India in which the Dalai Lama appeals to Buddhists to stop hunting wildlife. Under the influence of the Dalai Lama’s plea, Pahi was determined to give up hunting that year. But a year later, he narrated to us the story of a leopard skin he sold to a member of the defence services. The price was not cash but 15 cases, or 180 bottles, of alcohol.

In this frontier area, illegal trade in leopard and tiger skins from India to Tibet is common knowledge.

The role of wild meat

While wildlife hunting in North East India is linked to culture, it continues to express itself in new ways with the commercialisation of wild meat, emerging local markets for wild meat and wildlife products and changing cultural norms.

Change is seen in places near and far away from the border.

“We are Animists first and then Buddhists,” said a member of a tribe that was hunting bear gall bladders in Arunachal Pradesh in 2015. The gall bladders, which are used in traditional Asian medicine, would later be sold in Assam.

Set against this backdrop, is the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, which executed a generic writ against hunting of scheduled wildlife – those animals listed under this Act. Hunting of scheduled animals is generally prohibited unless special permission is obtained from the Chief Wildlife Warden (only for special circumstances) and/or if the animal species is classified as vermin. In some cases there is very little awareness that this Act exists. In most cases, enforcement of the letter and spirit of this Act is not practically possible as several members of resident communities find hunting to be culturally acceptable.

The story of hunting in the North East is much more complex than the simple act of killing a leopard or other wild animals for cash or barter.

Upon spending time in villages in the North East, we realised that wild meat has multiple significance. It is offered as a bride price during weddings and regarded as a status symbol. In central Arunachal Pradesh, during wedding ceremonies men gift orange ­bellied squirrels (Dremomys lokriah) to the bride’s family.

Wildlife products or meat are even gifted to visiting officials to gain goodwill and to establish or affirm relationships of patronage. Sometimes visiting government officers are presented with animal skins that are used as decorative items at their homes.

Many such conversations about hunting in the North East have remained undocumented. One possible reason for this could be the limited interactions between people of mainland India and the North East, and the restricted entry into many of these states.

Jaw of a clouded leopard. (Photo credit: Rohit Naniwadekar).
Jaw of a clouded leopard. (Photo credit: Rohit Naniwadekar).

Open access

However access is becoming easier and things are changing.

For one, key border areas are being connected by roads. However, this often opens up access to hunting routes too. In many cases, forest officers have expressed their reservations about opening roads and highways within the protected areas they manage. But often, taking biodiversity concerns on board in any national policy evaluation runs the risk of creating an anti-national road. In several instances, traders from outside these states set up shops and often deal with wildlife products.

New ways of capital is also being created from wildlife products. Often non-­resident settlers, external market forces and personal or professional favours for government officers create this demand.

For example, in the Mishmi hills in Arunachal Pradesh, in 2008, a doctor bartered a jar of the malted milk drink Horlicks that was bought at a subsidised rate from the Army canteen in exchange for an otter skin. On visiting the doctor in 2012, we found that the skin was displayed as a wall hanging in the drawing room.

Hunting is thus not a simple practice of the exchange of gifts but has social underpinnings that are intimately interrelated with cultural and socio­-political processes.

There are numerous other reasons why people hunt in many states in the North East. This includes hunting to protect their crops from being raided by wildlife, or to secure additional income.

A priest’s basket made with the parts of a Himalayan serow, a wild pig and Malayan sunbear. (Photo credit: Rohit Naniwadekar).
A priest’s basket made with the parts of a Himalayan serow, a wild pig and Malayan sunbear. (Photo credit: Rohit Naniwadekar).

Hunting is also done as a leisure activity. Although some view poverty as an important driving force behind hunting, the wildlife trade continues because of affluent consumers, locally and for the international market.

For instance, interviewees in one study site in Arunachal Pradesh reported that otter hunting is a relatively recent phenomenon in their area. Hunters acquire serrated metal leg-hold traps that are laid near the river banks from men in neighbouring Myanmar. Hence global factors can reduce the small-scale efficacy of the prohibitive laws related to hunting.

No easy answers

In the North East, a clearer image will emerge when we seek to understand whether hunting is a way of life, a livelihood issue, a socio­-cultural dimension of living, part of a trade network, or all these put together in varying degrees of complexity.

So hunting by a small tribe living in remote villages in the Himalayas can no longer be described simply as indigenous hunting for subsistence. The interaction between middlemen and resident hunters for trade and business is also part of a larger socio­-economic fabric.

As for the leopard skin, Pahi did not barter the alcohol for more skins. He arranged a lottery for the liquor, instead, earning Rs 36,000. His story and that of hunting in North East India is caught between the complexities of markets, traditions, conservation ethos and the law. There is no right and wrong and certainly no easy answers.

Ambika Aiyadurai is an anthropologist at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Nandini Velho is an Earth Institute Fellow at Columbia University. This is part of a chapter in the soon to be published book Conservation from the margins.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The qualities of a high-performance luxury sedan

A lesson in harnessing tremendous power to deliver high performance.

Gone are the days when the rich and successful would network during a round of golf, at least in the Silicon Valley. As reported by New York Times, ‘auto-racing has become a favourite hobby for the tech elites’. However, getting together on a race track would require a machine that provides control while testing extreme limits. Enter the Mercedes-AMG range of cars.

Mercedes-AMG’s rise from a racing outfit to a manufacturer of peak performance cars is dotted with innovations that have pushed the boundaries of engineering. While the AMG series promises a smooth driving experience, its core is made up of a passion for motorsports and a spirit that can be summarized in two words – power and performance. These integral traits draw like-minded people who share and express Mercedes-AMG’s style of performance.

The cars we drive say a lot about us, it’s been said. There are several qualities of an AMG performance luxury sedan that overlap with the qualities of its distinguished owner. For instance, creating an impression comes naturally to both, so does the ambition to always deliver an exceptional performance. However, the strongest feature is that both the owner and the AMG marque continually challenge themselves in pursuit of new goals, stretching the limits of performance.

This winning quality comes alive, especially, in the latest Mercedes-AMG marque – the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4MATIC+. With the most powerful engine to have ever been installed in an E-class, this undisputed performance sedan promises immense power at the driver’s command. With 612 HP under its hood, the car achieves 0-100 km/h in just a few seconds - 3.4 to be precise. Moreover, the car comes with the latest driver-assistance technology that promises intelligent control and provides an agile and responsive ride.

But, the new AMG is not just about work (or traction in car lingo). One of its core features is to provide its owners a challenge on the race track. Its drift mode, which converts the vehicle into a pure rear-wheel drive, offers pure exhilaration and adds a work-play dynamic to the car. In that sense, the new AMG is a collaborator of sorts - one that partners with its owner to create an impression through performance. And on the weekends, the car pushes him/her to express absolute power using its race mode with a thunderous roar of the engine - the pure sound of adrenalin. This balance between work and play has been achieved using cutting-edge features in the car that together create an almost intuitive driver-machine relationship.

If you’re looking for a car that shares your enthusiasm for driving, you’ll find a partner in the new AMG. However, buying an AMG is not just about owning a powerhouse on wheels, it’s also about adopting a driving philosophy in which power is just the starting point - the main skill lies in how you manoeuvre that power on the road. A performance sedan in its sportiest form, Mercedes-AMG’s latest model takes vehicle performance to an unmatched level. A decade ago, this amount of speed and power in a luxury 4-door model would be un-thinkable.

Play

The new Mercedes-AMG comes with a host of individualisation options through designo, the artistic side of Mercedes’s innovation, so the car becomes an extension of the owner’s distinctive personality. An expressive design with a new radiator grille and a muscular front apron showcase its athleticism. A new-age driver environment, widescreen cockpit, the AMG performance steering wheel and sports seat delivers an intensive driving experience. With the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4MATIC+, AMG has created an undisputed performance sedan that can rip the race track as well as provide reliable luxury sedan-duty. To know more about the most powerful E-class of all time, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Mercedes-Benz and not by the Scroll editorial team.