India is considering “mercy killing” as a method of controlling the population of wild animals for the first time. The proposal is part of a draft of a new government plan that focuses on wildlife conservation.
Even as traditional habitats and migration routes for wild animals are deteriorating, the National Wildlife Action Plan says that the population of some wild animals, such as nilgai, are increasing. With numbers that are unsustainable for their diminished ecosystems, some animals — including, the report says, nilgai, elephants, and rhesus monkeys — have undertaken new forms of crop raiding.
These changes in environment and behaviour are leading to a rise in conflict, often violent, between humans and animals.
The Action Plan, which provides a roadmap on wildlife conservation from this year to 2031, mentions a variety of potential solutions. It suggests studying how to devise human “land-use practices” that would reduce the number of conflicts, and it recommends constituting a workforce within state forest departments that would be devoted to addressing conflicts as they occur.
The plan also recommends the “scientific management of wildlife populations” and refers to the need to “define” and “identify the relevant procedures” for “mercy killing”.
While euthanasia denotes only the killing of animals that are already terminally ill, mercy killing involves killing animals “for reasons of space, lack of proper centres, resources and personnel,” according to the draft of the policy.
Mercy killing is common in a variety of places around the world. Bison in Yellowstone National Park in the United States, badgers in the United Kingdom, kangaroos in Australia, and elephants in South Africa are all culled in order to maintain a healthy and safe population size.
In India, the religious sentiments associated with some wild animals make it challenging for the government to support the mercy killing of those species. Lord Ganesha’s association with elephants and the reverence of Hanuman as the monkey-god are cases in which there are no easy answers.
Climate change and human settlements are not the only things threatening animal environments. Invasive alien species are taking a heavy toll on protected areas and their native populations. The problem has become so acute that Indian conservationists are now speaking about a ‘national policy on alien species’ being a new focus for the future.
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