Why we need to curb hunting in Nagaland
I enjoy carrying out wildlife questionnaires with the locals of the communities that have settled down on the forest fringes. I would usually take my field guide book and show the pictures, to which the locals enthusiastically participate and respond well. On flipping through the pages the locals would gleefully say “itu bi khai! itu bi meetha ase!” at each pictures and would deliberate upon the recipe to a tasty exotic dish, which leaves would savor well, and which part would be taken for some un-natural healing, then they would say “aji kali pabo le bishi dan ase”. Well, that’s how wildlife conservation starts in Nagaland.
Entertaining as it may seem the ugly truth is that we have lost a large population of our wildlife to uncontrolled and unsustainable hunting. It may be not to the extent of pushing species to extinction but has significantly reduced their population so drastically that it is becoming rare to sight them. In such a scenario sustaining the protein requirement for the villagers living near the forest becomes a big problem. Protein is an essential requirement for the development and growth, and meat is an excellent example. The urban have the luxury of getting poultry products at walkable distances to supplement the protein needs but contrastingly it is easier said than done for the rural. Poultry tends to be more expensive in these areas while wild meat tends to be much cheaper. Hence, we cannot blame them for the loss of biodiversity. We are to be blamed for the loss and the uncontrolled hunting. Gifting an exotic meal (wildmeat) to bureaucrats or VIPs is a normal practice in order to gain favors. It is self-deprecating as villagers are convinced to allow hunting in their community reserve forest, and in some instances in Nagaland “inside a protected area”, as some “big shot” wishes to eat wild meat or he wants to go game hunting.
I cherish the wonderful memories of my adolescence, snuggling up in my grandpa’s arm as he narrated those enchanting fables and folklores. Naga folklores are a delight as it encompasses stories invariably with a moral background; it always has a cunning fox, a stubborn wildboar, a courageous tiger, a wise owl, a vain stag and descriptions of wild animals showing a part of their personality and their activities. Years later, on wild encounters with these animals, I always have a flashback of the fables I used to hear when I was young. But coming to today’s scenario in Nagaland, finding a mere squirrel is as hard as, well, finding Nemo.
I am pleased that when I get the opportunity to visit places in Nagaland I am often told that they have started to protect their community forest by preserving wildlife and forest resources. But Nagas, being Nagas, go to the next village and carry on with their hunting!
Many of the readers would not be familiar with the term “Empty Forest Syndrome”. This is a phrase coined by an ecologist Redford and used to describe a forest deficient of wild animals. Forest inhabitants are an indication of a healthy ecosystem and are influential in maintaining the delicate balance in the ecosystem. However, in Nagaland, the syndrome that leads to this empty forest is hunting.
Hunting has been one of the earliest forms of occupation and also a necessity for survival since the primitive ages. It is inevitable and always shall be a part of our society. Hunting also enfolds with it a bit of traditional twist, a man’s strength, his skill, finesse and prowess were determined by his hunting trophies. Such glamour was affordable then, with pristine thick forests and less population. But given today’s scenario, the lack of space, uncontrolled rise of population, ever rising demands of bio-resources, unsustainable means and ways of extracting NTFP (Non Forest Timber Products), makes a huge problem in conserving and preserving our biodiversity. Forest managers and also the community faces troubles: the former in controlling the communities and the latter in finding or harvesting of NTFP’s.
Rampant hunting has caused gargantuan damages and has pushed a lot of species into extinctions. It is challenge for us to take stern counter measures and check the irreplaceable damage already done.
Satem Longchar wildlife researcher from Dimapur. A former student of the Wildlife Institute of India, she is currently pursuing her education from the University of Oxford, in Oxford England.