India Gives Go-Ahead for Farmers to Cull “Vermin”

The cull will include a range of animals deemed troublesome to people—including rhesus monkeys and wild boar in some places

A pair of nilgai, Asia's largest species of antelope. vil.sandi via Flickr

Even at the best of times, the decision to cull—or selectively kill—animals is bound to cause controversy. Breeders and ranchers occasionally cull sick or weak animals to protect the healthier ones or establish a more robust breeding stock. But culling is also used to curb overpopulation of invasive species or wild animals that spread disease or damage crops. In recent years, however, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has given farmers in certain states the go-ahead to kill select creatures, citing human-animal conflict as the reason.

In India, many species of animals are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, which regulates the killing of certain animals. However, if a species is classified as “vermin,” these protections can be lifted, allowing people to cull large numbers of the animal for a specific period of time, K.C. Archana reports for India Today. Recently, the Indian government declared several species of animals vermin, including rhesus monkeys, wild boar, and nilgai (the largest antelope in Asia), saying that overpopulation was causing the animals to come into conflict with local farmers in several states.

“When state governments write to us about farmers suffering due to crop damage by animals, then such permissions are given,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, said earlier this month, Manu Balachandran reports for Quartz. “It is on the recommendation of state governments; also it’s an old law.”

The Indian government first reached out to the country’s state governments in 2014, asking for a list of animals they considered to be vermin. Since last year, it has begun issuing notices stating which states could consider which animals to be vermin, allowing local officials to initiate culls. However, these orders have outraged animal rights activists and wildlife experts around India, many of whom argue that there is little scientific evidence of the benefits of culls, Jayashree Nandi reports for the Times of India.

“This is a ridiculous way of dealing with wildlife,” Sreedhar Ramamurthi, an earth scientist and trustee for the New Delhi-based Environics Trust, tells Balachandran. “There have been no scientific studies to understand their population growth or on how they are a hindrance to farmers or human life.”

Some activists claim that the environment ministry has given people in some parts of the country the go-ahead to cull peacocks and even elephants, though the government denies these reports. In any case, many wildlife experts say there is little reason for the culls, but it’s possible that widespread killing of these animals could damage the environment by dramatically reducing the populations of important species in the local ecosystem, Balachandran reports. They argue that the same problems the cullings claim to address could be handled by creating more natural barriers to prevent these animals from foraging on farms, though these would likely take much longer than the “quick-fix” of the culling.

However, the legality of the culls may be decided soon: an animal rights activist named Gauri Maulekhi has brought the case before the Indian Supreme Court, which is taking it on this week, Archana reports. If the Supreme Court rules against the environment ministry, the rhesus monkey, nilgai, and wild boar will all remain protected from culling under the law.

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