Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Unruly nilgais on dangerous bull run

Unruly nilgais on dangerous bull run
Times of India

Gujarat is still smarting over the loss of some of its Gir lions to Madhya Pradesh. But many states would gladly give away an animal whose burgeoning population is causing havoc in farms, airforce stations and on national highways â€" the blue bull or nilgai. So fraught has this man-animal face-off become that Bihar issued an order on February 19 for culling these animals in a restricted way.

For Rahul Gupta (name changed), a nilgai will always evoke trepidation. Recently, as he was driving down a national highway at 9 pm, a blue apparition suddenly jumped in front of his luxurious car. It was a nilgai -- big, agile and just as bewildered as Gupta. The car crashed, the bonnet crumpled. Fortunately, the airbags saved him. "But it will cost me Rs 22 lakh to repair the car," says Gupta. He was lucky. Last April, a toddler and his father were killed when their Santro turned turtle on ramming into a nilgai in Gurgaon.

Nilgais also raid farms and damage crops. "Poor farmers existing on subsistence agriculture can ill-afford this and are increasingly hostile to them," says Dr N P S Chauhan, head of population management, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. "After introduction of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972), many wildlife species, including nilgais, have increased considerably outside protected areas," says Chauhan in a research paper. This leaves crops as the only food available to them, says Bittu Sahgal, editor, Sanctuary Asia. Also, the decrease in predators -- wolves and jackals -- has further increased their numbers.

Nilgais, incidentally, come under Schedule III of the Wildlife Act. "Basically, this means that if a state government, under political pressure, wants to issue permissions to shoot nilgais, they can," says Sahgal. Constant skirmishes led the chief wildlife warden in Bihar to constitute a committee to issue licenses to kill them in a restricted way. The February 19 order states that the license to use stipulated firearms for culling will be valid for four weeks, that Rs 500 will be paid for each killing and Rs 1,000 for disposal of the body. Culling has also taken place in other states such as HP, MP and Gujarat.

Air force stations, too, are frequented by nilgai herds and use choppers to scare them away. Former group captain Pankaj Chopra says, "When I was the chief commanding officer of a forward station, I saw a nilgai and a MiG colliding on the runway. The plane turned turtle. We had a tough time extricating the pilot. The plane was written off." In 2008, an AI flight hit a nilgai at Chakeri airport in Kanpur. All escaped unhurt.

So what's the solution? "One should restore ecosystems so that the predator-prey ratio gets balanced," says Sahgal. "In the US where virtually every predator has been shot, humans have taken on this role and are turning the guns on animals." How about fencing highways or relocating them like the Gir lions, asks Gupta.

Easier said than done.

(Inputs from Madan Kumar in Patna)

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