The wild side of 'civilised'
For amusement, profit or prestige, humans have come out with their most inhuman instincts — inflicting cruelty on animals through poaching, illicit trade of their body parts, involving them in lethal sports and whatnot
The rising number of animal deaths, particularly in India, is a cause of concern. Reports published by government and private agencies point towards an alarming situation. The most frightening part, however, is the sickening of the human mind, as the selfish creed of homo sapiens continues to exploit the mute beings for profit.
Among all non-human living beings on the planet, animals share the most proximate connection with humans. Still, cruel incidents against animals, each more shocking than the previous one, are frequently being reported. A recent report by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisation (2010-2020) mentioned 720 cases of crime against street animals, 741 cases against working animals, 588 cases against companion animals, 88 cases against farm animals, and 258 cases against wild animals and birds in India. Among 1,000 documented assault cases, were 82 cases of sexual abuse, 266 cases of cold-blooded murder, and over 400 cases of violent attacks of beating, kicking, torturing, throwing acid or boiling water, maiming a part of the body, attacking with a knife or a blunt object. Also, 20 of the documented cases were assaults by children.
The most fearsome and heinous aspects, however, have been animal poaching and baiting (blood game) that are quite common in our country. While talking of animal blood games in India, the first image that prompts up is of Jallikattu — a traditional event in which a bull is released into the crowd, while human participants attempt to grab the large hump on the animal's back with both arms and hang on to it as the bull attempts to escape. Participants hold the hump for as long as possible, attempting to bring the bull to a stop. Jallikattu is typically practised in the southern part of India, precisely in Tamil Nadu, as a part of Mattu Pongal celebrations in January. Severe injuries and deaths occur every year — both to the human participants and the animals forced into it.
At the same time, in northern India, loathsome games are practised widely in the form of animal fights, especially as dogfights — mainly in Punjab, Haryana and certain parts of Rajasthan. This is a sickening amusement that is pursued in rural communities or in certain semi-urban pockets in Delhi, NRC as well. Over here, the fights between dogs are fixed by people for both entertainment and gambling. The owner's pride and lots of money are at stake. Two dogs are made to fight each other and are expected to fight till death, regardless of their torn limbs and broken bones, even though they are screaming in pain from their wounds. This horrific blood sport is illegal in India and is more often known to be practised openly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and some other primitive societies. But in countries like the USA and India, these are played underground in hidden farms, basements and garages, known only to a select few, making it much harder to catch and root out.
Here, American Pit Bulls, Indian Alangu Mastiffs aka Pakistani Bully and Pakistani Mastiffs are the most common dogs which are used in these despicable matches. An animal loses if it dies or submits to the stronger opponent. Unfortunately, the dog who was seriously injured, and gave up during the fight, would be the one at the risk of being cruelly killed by its owner.
The value of a dog rises with the number of wins it registers under its name, and it is rewarded with food and perks — making it even more violent and bloodthirsty. A good record also makes them suitable for breeding — creating another line of tough, aggressive fighters.
Every dog owner wants his dog to win, and there are many ways that the owners use to make their dogs massive and aggressive. Cutting off its tail and ears makes the easily biteable parts inaccessible to the rival dog. Also, there are some terrible practices, including making the dog wear heavy chains to add extra weight to it and forcing it to swim in ice-cold water, run for miles, pull SUV tyres etc., which damages their bodies beyond repair. All this is done in the name of building stronger and harder fighters who will bring the owner fame and prestige. Small animals like chickens, puppies, rabbits and adult stray dogs and cats, are used as bait to train the dog to kill in fights, making them more violent. They are often starved before training sessions so they see these animals as their only food source. They are injected with steroids, force-fed synthetic protein powders and prescribed medications to build up their muscles — damaging their heart and kidneys and usually shortening their lives. Even their drinking water and sleep is rationed before a fight to make them more irritable and raring for a fight prior to the match. When they are not fighting, they are kept chained and hidden in filthy, cramped conditions for the entire day and night to conserve their energy and weight and also because they are too valuable to be allowed to escape or be stolen.
The most terrible part is the losing owner's hurt ego resulting in the cruel death of the defeated animal. The defeated dog can be burnt, drowned, poisoned, electrocuted or have its head smashed to a wall or simply stoned or beaten to death.
An NGO, Fauna Police, founded by a fierce animal rights activist Abhinav Srihan, is working tirelessly to rescue these brutalised creatures as well as wounded and abused or ill animals and birds. According to Srihan, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra, are some of the states known to the authorities where action should be taken urgently to stop these illegal acts by individuals who proudly showcase their activities openly through social media accounts. Some videos are shot in person by the owner and sent to popular sites to be uploaded.
Srihan has also exposed illegal wildlife trade hotspots in Kanpur, Lucknow and parts of Bihar by conducting on-ground investigations and sharing the information with authorities. More than 400 videos of dogfights, 700 videos of wildlife hunting and more than 50 videos of illegal greyhound racing have been posted on Abhinav Srihan's various social media handles (@abhinavsrihan for Twitter and Instagram).
Shockingly, in Punjab, dogs are used to hunt wildlife in the jungle. They are bred; trained cruelly; housed in a filthy, crammed environment; and starved so that they hunt animals in jungles as the only way to satisfy their hunger. Many well-known people sometimes join these hunting parties that often go on for days. Sometimes, large animals are targeted and the owners of the dogs cook and feast on them, along with consuming alcohol and narcotics, with all-night music and dancing. Such misadventures are in gross violation of the law, as most wild animals cannot be hunted or consumed as food.
Further, the NGO Fauna Police has shared music videos by prominent Punjabi singers in which they allude to the illegal activity. Animal rights activists claim that these types of songs regularly feature or glorify prohibited animal-related activities such as cockfighting, dogfighting, bull racing or greyhound racing and pigeon-flying competitions.
Dangerous use of steroids in these animals to enhance their performance during competitions is common. Vets illegally provide and advise on the administration of these drugs in animals whose bodies are already ravaged by overuse of drugs — leading to serious illness and death.
Recently, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) also sent a letter to the Animal Husbandry Department of the Punjab government after Fauna Police reported more than 100 cases of dogfighting and more than 270 instances of wildlife poaching — a majority of which were in Punjab. Repeated requests to successive governments have not borne any result, as everyone is afraid of upsetting the powerful farming lobby as well as the rich landed aristocrats who indulge in these sports.
Animal poaching in India is another scary part of the story. World Wide Fund (WWF) TRAFFIC estimates that poaching doubled during the lockdown, even though more people were supposed to be staying at home. The fact remains that some people were either free or jobless, and therefore took up trading in wildlife as an additional source of income. The other reason was the demand for animal meat — the only source of animal protein in certain areas. Furthermore, body parts of some animals are used in preparing traditional medicines, which has been a constant cause of threat over the years.
Fur coats or caps are made from the skins of tigers and pandas, whereas bags are made from the scales of pangolins and monitor lizards. These are just a few examples of how the fashion industry has become part and parcel of the illegal wildlife trade. At the same time, ivory and elephant tail hair are the most commonly bought elephant products. For consumers, these are symbols of wealth and power. Given the high value of these products, buyers generally hail from higher-than-average income groups.
Rhino poaching is one of the major issues in India's north-eastern state of Assam. The demand for their horns does not come from within India but from its southeast neighbours — Vietnam and China. Recent urban myths surrounding the medical properties of Rhino horns — claiming that Rhino horns cure cancer, relieve hangovers, and enhance male virility — do not help either.
Further, exotic species, especially those in India, are targeted so that people can keep them as pets. No, this does not mean people want to keep a tiger at home. But it does mean that species like parakeets, doves, turtles, and snakes are under threat.
Data show that tigers, rhinos, and other populations of endangered animals in India are slowly, but steadily, recovering. This, however, doesn't mean that their quality of life is getting better.
Hunting wild animals is prohibited under the law. It also violates Section 9 of The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Still, the illegal wildlife trade continues to thrive in India. Since 2013, Fauna Police has been reporting such cases with evidence of sale and purchase and hunting of wildlife animals across the country to the police, Wildlife Crime Bureau, Forest Department and the Animal Welfare Board of India but appropriate action is still awaited. Recently, more than 700 videos were uploaded on the Instagram account of Fauna Police, following which the Animal Welfare Board of India has sought enquiry from the Punjab Chief Secretary office and Punjab police.
Fauna Police reported to the Environment Ministry regarding illegal wildlife trading in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh on April 12, 2013. Again in 2018, a resident of Faridabad reported to the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), the erstwhile Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, Haryana Chief Secretary and Haryana Police regarding the selling of Indian protected wildlife. In another instance, the selling of Indian wildlife stuffed in cages in the open market at Chhidiya Baajar, Gurandi, Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh was reported with a substantive original video as evidence by Fauna Police. The complaint was sent to former Central Minister Maneka Gandhi, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Madhya Pradesh Police and the Wildlife Department. In March 2019, the NGO again raised concerns over increasing illegal wildlife trade in Jaipur with photos, and reported to Maneka Gandhi and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau. During the same period, a complaint was made against an individual selling wildlife (Alexandrian parakeet) illegally, along with the evidence provided to the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and Animal Welfare Board of India. Another complaint was against an individual dealing in wildlife (monkey) along with evidence of the trade through a Facebook post.
As per UNODC, India has nearly 6.5 per cent of the world's known wildlife species. Approximately, 7.6 per cent of the world's mammals and 12.6 per cent of the world's birds are found in India. Hence, experts feel that illicit global demand for wildlife and its products has resulted in the rise of wildlife crime across the subcontinent. Moreover, in India, wildlife crime is a pervasive problem — damaging ecosystems, impacting food security and affecting the livelihood of rural communities. In many cases, cross-border smuggling of animals and plants can result in the spread of diseases through carrier animals and plants.
Views expressed are personal