Arunachal Pradesh is inhabited by 26 major tribes and 110 sub-tribes and their hunting behavior for sustenance was sustainable till recently, but with the illegal rackets popping up and wooing the tribes, the picture is gradually changing. New studies and observations from the state reveal that these rackets have succeeded to entice the tribes, pushing them to cross the limits set by their religious and cultural taboos. In fact, it is not just the case of Arunachal. Kani tribes capturing Slender Loris for photographers in South India are just another face of the same phenomenon. However, things in Arunachal have gone too far, warn researchers who are studying the phenomenon.
|Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis), hunted by tribes in Arunachal Pradesh despite being protected by law|
(Image Courtesy: Kalyanvarma (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons)
Alarming change in bird hunting patterns
A short research communication published in the Journal of Tropical Ecology warns that the bird hunting practices of tribes in Western Arunachal Pradesh is turning unsustainable at least for some of the threatened bird species of the region.
Detailed surveys conducted among 157 hunters of three major tribal communities- Nyishi, Monpa and Apatani- in Western Arunachal Pradesh, according to the study, show that 5 of the bird species being hunted by tribes are Endangered, 5 are Vulnerable while 1 is Critically Endangered, as per IUCN red data list. (Though it does not exactly disclose which are the threatened species. The corresponding author does not respond to queries.)
The survey which was conducted during 2002 to 2005 period, found that a total of 53 species of birds were hunted in the area. Though only 10 to 15 percent of the total community is involved in active hunting, the survey results indicate that 18 of the 53 frequently hunted birds are conserved under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, says the study.
The data suggest that a majority (40 percent) of the hunted birds are Passeriformes which is the largest order of birds which includes rooks, finches, sparrows, tits, warblers, robins, wrens, swallows. Of the total number of bird species being hunted, 34 come under Schedule IV and 1 belongs to Schedule V of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
According to the study, the hunting is intensive during April- May during the preparation of the jhum fields for cultivation and during harvesting season of October- December period also. If the results of the study are applied to the whole area statistically, the number of birds being hunted an year by all the communities together can be close to 10956, says the study.
Hunting during the breeding periods of the birds may be more disastrous for the survival of the species, points out the study. “The species such as hornbills and hawks are hunted by the Apatani and the Monpa tribes inside the nest when birds are incubating the eggs or guarding the chicks”, it says. However, Nyishi community avoids hunting hornbills during the breeding season due to religious taboos.
Trade beckons beyond cultural taboos
In a recent article, Nandini Velho, a PhD student from James Cook University and a research associate with National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore details her experiences while studying the hunting patterns among the tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. According to her, it is shocking to see how the illegal trade has changed the hunting patterns and habits of the tribes in the area.
While taking interviews with the tribes, many of the villagers have approached the researchers putting proposals for trading medicinal plants or some most wanted species, mistaking them for potential customers, says she.
Her account suggests that barking deer meat is much sought after one in the markets and while a hunter used to kill 25 barking deers on an average during his lifetime in the olden days, presently the number is as high as 100 per hunter. Ironically, she points out that the major consumers of this illegal game meat are the government officials living in the area.
Most importantly, the attitude has significantly changed, says Velho. According to her, as one of the hunters put it to her, people kill and eat whatever they get, if there is no market for it. Though killing a tiger is a taboo (with the particular tribal community with which the researcher has interacted), which will haunt a member of the community till death or even after that, people no more care, points out the researcher.
Double edged question
The changing phenomenon is a double edged when looked at as part of the complex question of conserving the forests of the country without harassing the indigenous people who consider it as their home. Such phenomenon can be used by groups of vested interests to win their arguments towards pushing out indigenous people from their forest home, under the false banner of conservation. While such a solution will be politically incorrect, chances are high that such cries for the blood of the tribes will be pitched high.
|Nyishi tribe with a head gear of hornbill beak|
Image Courtesy: Diganta Talukdar
Forests and its resources are the rights of the indigenous people. However, illegal rackets using them is a tricky question to be solved without compromising the conservation goals. Throwing out the sons of the forests will not be an apt solution. However, leaving the tribal communities let loose with their hunting spree will also not solve the issue, but will aggravate it.
Participatory conservation measures always rely upon policies and action which aim at confirming people’s participation in conserving forest and biodiversity resources. In Arunachal also, it will be the best possible solution. But to make it possible, conservationists in the country should take pro-active efforts to snap the links of the evil trading chain that work as a pushing force behind the changing hunting patterns. Best thing to do is to help tribes understand the alarming nature of the changing practices.
Indigenous people and their vast traditional knowledge have a major role to play in all conservation efforts in the country. But as the new generation of the tribes often deserting the
traditional beliefs and customs and falling prey for the outside society pressures, it is high time to make some movement in that way.
However, it will not be ethically correct to argue that the tribes should keep stuck to their old culture alienated from the outer society. We need to find a space in between where the tribes can change and adopt their ways of life in accordance with changing times, but with clearly understanding the invisible conservation policies shaped by their ancestry as cultural and religious taboos.
In short, proper awareness programmes carried out in this direction and collective efforts to document and preserve the traditional knowledge of these indigenous people will be the key to a politically correct answer.