India’s government has a lust for killing wild animals and is indiscriminately culling monkeys, peacocks, and elephants, a senior minister has claimed.
“In Bengal they gave permission to kill elephants, in Himachal they gave permission to kill monkeys, in Goa they gave permission to kill peacocks. I don’t understand this lust for killing,” said Maneka Gandhi, the high-profile women’s minister and former environment minister.
The comments come after India’s environment agency declared the Rhesus macaque “vermin” in the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh. The move paves the way for its killing, despite the monkey being a protected species.
The ministry has also sanctioned the hunting of hundreds of wild boar and nilgai – a type of antelope blamed by farmers for destroying crops.
“The Environment Ministry here is writing to every state asking them which animal they want to kill and they will grant permission,” said Mrs Gandhi, the widow of Indira’s son Sanjay.
The animals have been killed under an official scheme allowing Indian states to request certain species be declared “vermin” for a temporary period in order to bring their numbers down.
It was introduced amid growing conflict between wild animals and human activity, especially agriculture, as India’s population rapidly expands and encroaches on natural habitats.
Last week, professional hunters killed around 200 nilgai in Bihar state, in what Mrs Gandhi termed the “biggest-ever massacre”. Her remarks have triggered a war of words between the ministries over conservation efforts.
“I will not react on who said what. But as per the law, we must help the farmers whose crops get ruined,” said Prakash Javadekar, the current environment minister.
He added that any culling is only carried out “keeping the scientific facts in mind”.
Mr Javadekar denied Mrs Gandhi’s claims that peacocks and elephants were being culled.
Elephants are particular concern in India for the threat they pose to human lives. According to a 2010 government report, 400 people in India are killed by elephants every year.
Up to 100 elephants die annually following these encounters, often poisoned or clubbed by villagers as they seek to protect their crops.
“Conflict and encounters between wild animals and people are getting more and more by the day,” said Dr Dipankar Ghose, head of the WWF India’s species programme.
“There is no longer a clear demarcation between wildlife areas and human development.”
“Elephants won’t come out to seek people, they would rather avoid us.”