While the demand for the mass killing of stray dogs reveals a genocidal mindset, exaggerated figures whip up mass hysteria against them and spread misinformation
Some people spend the better part of their lives on providing education to street children; some on extending medical aid to the poor. Some devote themselves to collecting clothes for, and distributing the same, among pavement dwellers and some to running relief organisations that help those hit by natural calamities like floods and cyclones. Some live to demand ceaselessly that all stray dogs be killed.
The urge to kill — and even perpetrate mass murder — is as much a part of the human psyche as the one to extend succour to the disprivileged and the distressed. The wars, genocides and other violent activities and crimes like murders, that have occurred throughout history, bear this out and underline the fact that hatred is as central, and sometimes more powerful, an emotion as love and compassion.
The most extreme form of the desire to kill is to perpetrate it on a mass scale, which is genocide. Only a handful of people can perpetrate the latter as it would require state power or an organisation like Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (SA, the original Nazi paramilitary body), to do it. More, given the opprobrium that has come to be attached to genocides, which are now regarded as crimes against humanity, anyone calling for the slaughter of any community or class of people would find himself/herself shunned and denounced. One, therefore, should not be surprised if people redirect their genocidal instinct to stray dogs and, in the process, gain the bonus of being able to project themselves as protectors of human beings from death and from rabies numbering, according to the three figures most commonly cited, 30,000, 25,000 and 20,565 respectively.
The question is: Where do these figures come from? The first two appear in Assessing the burden of rabies in India: WHO-sponsored national multi-centric rabies survey 2003 by the Association for Prevention and Control of Rabies in India (APRCI), which states, “However, from 1985, India continues to report every year 25,000 to 30,000 human rabies deaths, which today accounts for 60 per cent of the global report of 50,000 (WHO, 2002).”
The survey further states, “The above figure of 25,000 was an estimate worked out on the projected statistics of isolation hospitals in the country in 1985…” What we have then is not an actual figure but an estimate and that, too, arrived at on the basis of not actual but “projected” statistics. One is reminded here of the famous statement, attributed to Charles Darwin, “A mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn’t there.”
As to the figure of 30,000 deaths, WHO’s World Survey of Rabies No. 34 for the year 1998 cites this as the number of rabies deaths in India in that year. The survey’s annexure 3, showing “global trends and distribution by country and continent”, had the entry “most parts” against India in the column under the heading, “Geographical distribution.” The space against India in the column under the heading “Trends” was left blank. WHO’s World Survey of Rabies No. 35 for the year 1999 describes the geographical distribution of the incidence of rabies in India as being confined to “limited areas.” The entry in the column under the heading of “Trend” is “Decrease.” How can, in the course of one year, the incidence of rabies in the country contract from “Most parts” to “Limited areas?” Even more glaring is the fact that the 1999 survey does not give any figure for the number of human deaths for rabies in India that year! Clearly, the figure of 30,000 appears far from credible.
This brings us to the APCRI’s survey with its figure of 20,565 human deaths from rabies every year. Again, it is a mere projected estimate and not the total of recorded deaths from hospitals in various parts of the country. Also, it is based on critical inputs, which are themselves of questionable validity. The survey, for instance, states, “For estimating rabies incidence, the current reported incidence of three cases per 100,000 population (or 30,000 for one billion population, WHO 2002) was considered. Based on this, as per the planned precision of 90% confidence level and 10% permissible error, about 9.1 million or 10 million (round figure) population coverage from 21 medical coverage with marginal coverage variations due to local factors was envisaged.”
As seen, the estimated annual figure of 30,000 rabies deaths in India needs to be viewed with serious reservations. It is at best a conjecture of uncertain validity. This in turn raises serious questions about the acceptability of the APCRI’s survey and its conclusions. These questions appear all the more warranted given the official figures on rabies’ deaths. Since 2005, the Union Government’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Central Bureau of Health Intelligence (CBHI) has been annually publishing a National Health Profile for the country. According to its 2018 edition, there were 97 cases of human deaths from rabies in 2017. According to the relevant preceding annual National Health Profiles, there were 86 human deaths from rabies in 2016, 113 in 2015, 125 in 2014 and 132 in 2013. Nor were the figures even remotely approaching 30,000, 25,000 or 20,565 in earlier years. There, for example, were 386, 365 and 485 deaths from rabies in 1997, 1998 and 1999 respectively. The number was 486 in 2000 and 488 in 2001.
The argument that the vertiginous difference between the actual numbers recorded and the incredibly higher estimated ones in circulation is due to under-reporting of human rabies deaths, holds little water. No amount of under-reporting can explain such a massive difference and certainly not when the reach of the print and electronic media extends to every part of the country and reports of human-animal conflict feature regularly.
Besides, the methodology of the APCRI’s survey raises serious questions. These include identification by respondents, without laboratory verification, of rabies cases which could be as many as five years old in rural and three years old in urban areas. The chances of people not being able to correctly recall the symptoms of the disease killing a person, and attributing to rabies deaths caused by other diseases, are very real, particularly when almost all of the respondents are not medical practitioners.
These grossly exaggerated figures serve only to whip up mass hysteria against stray dogs, boost the sales of anti-rabies vaccines and spread disinformation about India abroad, undermining its standing as an investment destination.
(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)
An increase in its population is gratifying but the tiger still faces problems, including the frequent man-animal conflicts. A national-level strategy is needed to manage this interface
Jim Corbett wrote in the Man-Eaters of Kumaon, the “tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage and that when he is exterminated —as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support — India will be the poorer, having lost the finest of her fauna.” Had the legendary hunter-turned conservationist and writer been alive, he would have noted with relief the contents of the latest estimation report on the number of tigers, titled the Status of Tigers, Co-Predators, Prey and their Habitat, 2018, released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 29, annually observed as Global Tiger Day. The report puts the number at 2,967, which marks an increase of 33 per cent over the figure of 2.226 in the estimated tiger count in 2014 and a phenomenal 210 per cent over the 2006 figure of 1,411.
The increase is gratifying because it comes as a part of a continuing upward trend since 2006. Besides it represents one of the few instances in which the Union or a State Government’s efforts have succeeded. It all started in 1970 when the Union Government banned the hunting of tigers throughout the country. Two other important developments followed in 1972. The country’s first tiger census put the number of the striped lords of the jungles at 1,827. More important, Parliament passed the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, for protecting animals, birds, reptiles and plants. It prohibited the capturing, killing, poisoning or trapping of wild animals, the injuring, destroying and removing any part of a wild animal’s body, also forbade disturbing or damaging of the eggs of wild birds and reptiles. It further prohibited the picking, uprooting, destruction, acquisition and collection of specified plants and trade in these. The Act also provided for the creation of sanctuaries and national parks where wildlife would be safe and for restriction of entry into these. More, it provided punishment for each category of crime.
The Act was an important step as the Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act of 1912 (eight of 12) and the various State laws prevailing until then offered little protection. It was, however, aimed at wildlife in general and not specifically tigers. For the latter, Project Tiger was launched on April 1, 1973, with two objectives — identification of the causes of shrinking tiger habitats, adoption of remedial measures and repair, to the extent possible, of the damage already done; and, second, the maintenance of a viable tiger population.
The project’s distinguishing feature has been the creation of sanctuaries, called Tiger Reserves, to protect tigers from poaching and other threats. Against nine spread over 9,115 square kilometres at the beginning, there are now 50 of these encompassing an area of 74,749 square kilometres. No human activity is allowed in their core areas, while limited access is granted to the buffer zones around these. Strong action is being taken against poaching with rangers and forest guards being provided wireless communication systems, improved weaponry and facilities for rapid movement.
Funded by the Union Government, administered by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC), and functioning under the direct supervision of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), set up under the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006, Project Tiger has made the most important contribution to increasing the number of tigers. One, however, has also to take into account the efforts made to protect wildlife from crimes against it, which has helped significantly, particularly since poaching to meet the demand abroad for tiger body parts for their allegedly medical and aphrodisiacal value, has been a contributory factor in the decline in numbers. In this context, one needs to recognise the critical role played by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) set up in 2006 under the same amendment act that established the NTCA.
A statutory multi-disciplinary body under the MOEFC, to combat organised wildlife crime in the country, it collects and collates intelligence pertaining to organised wildlife crime and disseminates the same among State and other enforcement agencies for immediate action. Its functions also include the establishment of a centralised wildlife crime data bank, co-ordination of actions by various agencies in enforcing the Act’s provisions and assistance to foreign authorities and international organisations to facilitate global action against wildlife crime. Among other things, it also helps to improve the capacity of agencies combating wildlife crime to conduct scientific and professional investigations and assists State Governments to successfully conduct prosecution for the same.
A proud feather in its cap has been the United Nation Environment Progamme’s conferring on it in November last year of an Asia Environment Enforcement Award in the Innovation category for successfully innovating enforcement techniques that have dramatically improved action against trans-boundary environmental crimes in India. Earlier, in 2010, it had received the prestigious Clark R Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award for outstanding work on wildlife law enforcement. Not surprisingly, its actions, along with those of other enforcement agencies, have resulted in the arrest of 350 wildlife criminals and huge seizures of tiger/leopard skins, rhino horns, elephant ivory, turtles/tortoises, raw mongoose hair, mongoose hair brushes, protected birds, marine products, live pangolins, deer antlers and so on across the States.
There is, however, hardly any scope for complacence. Human-tiger conflicts are becoming more frequent as the increase in the number of tigers continues along with growing human encroachments into their habitats in the form of new settlements, more extensive farming, infrastructure, and environmentally-disastrous industrial projects benefitting blue-eyed entrepreneurs. In this context, there is an urgent need to implement the NTCA’s suggestion for developing a national level strategy for management of human-tiger interface and dispersing tigers in compliance to its standard operating procedure, ensuring active collaboration between district administrations, police and forest department personnel, and, when required, for mob management to ensure safe capture or movement of animals.
All this, however, will not help if State Governments clear projects threatening the tiger’s survival. Two examples come immediately to the mind. Maharashtra sanctioned last year the diversion of 467.5 hectares of forest land in Yavatmal district for a cement plant. Also, its recommendation has led to the clearance, in principle, of 87.98 hectares of land in Kondhali and Kalmeshwar ranges — barely 160 km from Yavatmal — to an explosives company in Chakdoh for manufacturing defence products.
Unfortunately, tigers do not vote. Nor do they contribute to the funds of political parties.
(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)