A month ago, 43-year-old industrial worker V Nagaraj from Coimbatore’s Thiruvalluvar Nagar in Tamil Nadu died after he hit a wild boar, while on his motorcycle. An official suspects the animal may have come from the nearby forests. In another incident, a 50-year-old died in Goa’s Varkhand village, after being attacked by a wild boar. The victim, Ankush Parab, had gone to the forest to graze his cattle.

In many parts of India, depleting forest cover and the absence of fodder within it, pushes wild boars to raid crops in villages, and enter urban areas. This not only poses a threat to life, but also agriculture. In June 2020, a female wild elephant in North Kerala died, after eating food materials stuffed with local crude bombs. Investigations found that the elephant had fallen prey to the crude bait, initially meant for wild boars.

Over time, Kerala has been witnessing farmers’ protests, demanding vermin status for wild boars to facilitate their mass culling and the sale of meat. This has been owing to the continuous crop raids and attacks on humans by wild boars. However, the Union Environment Ministry has said that declaring wild boars as vermin would further intensify their indiscriminate killing apart from upsetting the balance of the forest habitat.

In a letter on April 12, Union Minister Bhupinder Yadav told the Kerala Forest Minister, AK Saseendran, that many predators in forests are dependent on wild boars for their survival, and mass culling of the boars would break the food chain within the forests, causing irreparable damages.

The Kerala government has also apprised the Union ministry that wild boars could carry zoonotic diseases, and they are elusive and nocturnal, making trapping or corralling them highly challenging, Saseendran told Mongabay-India. He added that the increasing number of wild boar within the forests itself is a threat to the food security of other species.

Several states across the country, such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have also demanded vermin status for wild boars.

Farmers’ associations and representatives of traditional forest dwellers that Mongabay-India spoke to allege that the existing facilities for scientific decimation of wild boars in India involve a complex and prolonged official process. They claim that only relaxing these norms will solve the problem. They also say that the conservation existing in the forest and wildlife areas of the country has caused an unusual rise in the population of wild boars, and the animals are a threat to the forest’s ecological balance.

Kerala has been witnessing farmers’ protests, demanding vermin status for wild boars. This has been owing to the continuous crop raids and attacks on humans by wild boars. Photo credit: David Raju

Experts divided

Leading ecologist Madhav Gadgil has said that “we need to scrap the Wildlife Protection Act and workout a system of wise management of natural resources”. In an opinion piece, published in May, Gadgil supported international practices of legal killing of wildlife as self-defence or defence of property and regulated hunting of wildlife that is done in some countries as wise, long-term utilisation of renewable resources.

Vice-president of the agricultural body, Tamil Nadu Vivasayikal Nala Sanghom, M Narasimman, told Mongabay-India that the wild boar menace is a global phenomenon, and many countries opted for mass culling to regulate it. He added that empowering farmers in India with the task of regulating the menace would not harm the balance of the forest environment. Narasimman also said that allowing farmers to kill wild boars would ease escalating tension between them and the forest officials.

CR Bijoy, a Coimbatore-based rights activist, who specialises in human-animal conflicts and forest rights of tribals, said that in the absence of permissible measures, farmers would be prompted to look for alternatives that are often illegal.

“In such situations, other animals such as tigers and elephants would be unintended targets of the barbaric practices being used to drive away crop-raiding wild boars,” he said. He said that there would be no environmental impact if the wild boars are killed whenever they move out of forests, as only three subspecies of the animal are found across India.

Mongabay India spoke to Kerala’s Forest Minister Saseendran, who said that the state has 58,000 wild boars in its forests, according to a 2019 survey. In 1993, there were only 40,963 wild boars, which further increased to 60,940 in 2002.

However, the numbers decreased significantly in the following years owing to climate change, habitat destruction and human interferences. “In the face of an intensified campaign to regulate crop-raiding wild boars, Kerala is now preparing to empower presidents and secretaries of local bodies with the right to kill them,” the minister said. “At present, only the state wildlife warden holds this power.”

Kerala state has 58,000 wild boars in its forests, according to a 2019 survey. In 1993, there were only 40,963 wild boars, which further increased to 60,940 in 2002. Photo credit: David Raju

Environmental scientist and former chairman of the Kerala Biodiversity Board VS Vijayan cautions against relaxing the stringent conservation rules without conducting an authentic study on their possible implications.

“Once regulated hunting is permitted, there are chances of its widespread misuse,” he said. “Across the country, the relaxations may help facilitate the regrouping of poaching mafias apart from causing the advent of new ones. Instead of adapting western models, we need a policy on vermin-keeping because of the peculiar Indian situation.”

TV Sajeev, a scientist with the Kerala Forest Research Institute mentioned to Mongabay-India that the more comprehensive solution is strengthening participatory forest management involving traditional forest dwellers and farmers who live nearby. “The adivasis should be part of all decision-making, concerning forest conservation,” Sajeev said. “Issues like invasive species ruining food security of wild animals must also be addressed.”

Tedious process

Meanwhile, according to forest officials, the existing process of scientifically decimating a wild boar is tedious. Two years ago, Kerala’s forest officials gunned down a wild boar at the Aruvappallam village under Ranni forest range in Pathanamthitta. This was done based on a 2014 government order which permitted strict and scientific decimation of wild boars. It was the first killing under the order.

Adhering to the order, a trained shooter was summoned. The animal was shot dead under the close vigil of a range forest officer, accompanied by half a dozen forest watchers, 10 wildlife protection officials, and three animal husbandry officials. The president of the local village panchayat was also present, along with the police.

Before gunning down the wild boar, what became a tough challenge for the officials was to check if the wild boar was a breastfeeding female or not. The order prevents the killing of wild boars seen along with piglets.

As no piglets were seen, the team concluded that it was not a breastfeeding wild boar. After its killing, the carcass was burned using kerosene, and the remains were buried. A detailed report was submitted in a prescribed format within 24 hours to the state’s chief wildlife warden, and it marked the completion of the process.

Though the forest department removed the clause of hiring a trained shooter last year, subsequent processes remain the same. So far, only two dozen boars have been decimated by Kerala.

According to farmers’ leader PT John, wild boars have now evolved as a significant threat to the agricultural economy by targeting yields, mainly tubers.

Wild boar in Kabini forests of Karnataka. Photos credit: Hadlee Ranjith

Experts say that according to the current laws, only the Union ministry can declare any wildlife as vermin. Currently, wild boars are listed under Schedule III of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The demand is to categorise them as vermin under Schedule V, which includes vermin such as the common crow, fruit bat, mice, and rats. Inclusion of the wild boars in Schedule V will facilitate their culling by farmers without facing criminal proceedings.

Environmental researcher J Devika who studied human-animal conflicts says that there are no conservation-related issues in killing crop-raiding wild boars. Biodiversity researcher PO Nameer, Dean of the College of Climate Change and Environmental Science at Kerala Agricultural University, also supports her view.

“Before the national Wildlife Protection Act came into force, our tribal people considered these animals a major food resource,” the Dean said. “Their protein requirements were met considerably by eating the wild boars.” However, he adds that culling as a solution needs to be reconsidered.

N Badusha, president of Wayanad Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithy said that wild boars are indeed engaging in crop raids, but they are not alone in the process. “Tigers, elephants, peafowl, squirrels, monkeys and other animals also trouble farmers,” Badusha said. “In the future, people may demand culling rights against all of them. So, the government has to be cautious.”

This article first appeared on Mongabay.