On Big Game Hunting and What Africa Can Learn From India

The recent cold blooded murder of Cecil, the lion, by an American big game hunter has sparked outrage across the world and has taken the social media by storm. The hunter (I prefer to call him murderous coward) has also stated that big game hunting is an activity that he loves and practises “responsibly”.This statement brings to the fore the mindset of a culture that has eradicated most of its wildlife and biodiversity in its quest to pursue “development” and material benefits.

While the social media outrage does show that this mindset is abhorred by the majority even in the west now, it is too little too late. The forests of North America and Europe may once have had a dazzling array of wildlife but  many of the erstwhile  residents of those habitats are now gone forever. Even places as remote as the Kamchatka peninsula and Siberia are having a tough time protecting the last few wild specimens of the Siberian Tiger and the Amur Leopard.

The African savannah , arguably, one of the last few great wildernesses in the world,  is slowly being converted  into game reserves where big game hunting is allowed so that the impoverished African economies can rake in some money.  These hunting reserves are nothing else but a colonial hangover which rich westerners can visit and practice their despicable cowardice on some of nature’s most powerful creations. The results are startling – Only 4 specimens of the Northern White Rhino remain. Only one remains in the wild. None of the individuals alive have the capability to breed. It is a species that will walk away into the sunset right in front of our eyes and we are responsible for that. Big cat numbers have been decimated. Elephants and rhinos are barely surviving. The painted dog numbers are dwindling. But the senseless “game” goes on.

This is in sharp contrast with situation back home here in India. After the Brits were kicked out from our land, the hunting parties organized by the erstwhile Royals to appease the alien masters were banned. The British Lords and Viceroys hunted our tigers and lions using means that should do no human proud. They tied buffaloes as baits and when a tiger showed up to stalk the bait, they shot it. Or they organized “beats” where an army of men would beat drums and create a din to make a tiger come out of its camouflage so that it could be shot by coward sitting on an elephant. Post independence conservation efforts were redoubled and the results are there to see. With the exception of the cheetah, many species have come back from the brink of extinction. The Asiatic Lions in Gir are thriving and the Royal Bengal Tiger is making a strong comeback. So are the swamp deer, the gharial, the Indian rhino and the prey base on  which the top cats depend. There is even talk of the Himalayan Quail, long thought of as being extinct, being present around Pangot in the Kumaoun.  We are the only nation that can boast of having lions, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, rhinos, elephants and several other species. No nation on earth can claim this. All of this despite having the second largest population of people in the world. Our neighbours in the region have lost this battle, but despite the setbacks, we soldier on.

There is a cultural aspect to this in my opinion. Once the British were kicked out, the harmony between our people and our wild that has existed since the dawn of our civilization has returned. Our sense of bravery and courage does not allow killing a magnificent animal by luring it with a bait and then shooting it from 100 yards away. There is no glory in it. I concede there are man animal conflicts but I believe that has always been the case. But there are positive examples as well. The people of the village of Khichan who protect cranes and the Bishnois  who protect the black buck are just a few of many heart warming examples.  The magnamity of our people hasn’t let this come in the way of conservation.

And this is precisely the lesson that Africa can learn. Before the colonial rule, the same harmony and balance existed in Africa. The Masai kill but only to defend themselves. The native practices prevalent in Africa did nothing to diminish the wildlife  numbers there until the arrival of the “big game hunter”. All Africa needs to do is embrace its past. As the cradle of our species, it is the least it can do…before its too late.

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