Taste of Life: Improving wildlife conservation, food security in Bombay Presidency

The year 1878 proved to be rather difficult for the residents of the Bombay Presidency. The rainfall deficit in previous years compounded the effects of famine, which this year coincided with a bout of plague. With most of the southern part of India suffering the effects of the treacherous weather conditions, people had no opportunity to migrate to other parts of the country.

The famine caused the prices of grain, vegetables, fruit, and meat to soar. According to a report in the Bombay Courier, the price of milk in Poona had increased fivefold between 1878 and 1880 and was no longer affordable for the locals.

An interesting reason for the steep rise in milk price in Poona could be found in the reports discussing wildlife protection in the Presidency. According to British officers, the indiscriminate hunting of wildfowl in the area was why milk was unaffordable for the natives. With many wild birds threatened with extinction, locals and Europeans had to resort to eating beef and mutton, leading to the depletion of dairy cattle. Milk was scarce and therefore more expensive.

In the last decades of the 19th century calls for strict regulations to protect wild animals and wild birds became louder. In 1880, Lionel Robert Ashburner, the acting governor of the Bombay Presidency, introduced a bill that aimed to do the same. The bill under discussion was called “A Bill Enabling the Government to Provide for the Conservation of Wild Birds and Wildlife”.

Hunting was an integral part of British life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Shikar was a sport that defined masculinity and the character of sportsmanship. Shikar’s experiences were promptly documented in magazines and newspapers, and occasionally in official reports. Hunting was originally viewed as an essential means of maintaining control and authority over the natives.

However, the British later took it upon themselves to ‘conserve’ wildlife in India while actively hunting for recreation and food. Originally, colonial administrators and naturalists wanted to preserve wild animals for the recreational pursuit of hunting. With the advances in colonial scientific forestry and the study of Indian flora and fauna, a real concern for endangered wildlife and birds arose.

Also Read :  Column: Vote yes for measure 1A to conserve Routt County’s water, wildlife, working ranches

The main idea was to regulate hunting, not eliminate it. ‘Wild’, like wood, was increasingly viewed as a non-limitless resource. Measured to protect the elephants, vital for transport, army and forestry, the rules of the game ran in parallel. By 1879, elephant killing was prohibited except for self-defense or on private land.

The Raj did not know how to regulate the hunt or how far to interfere with the rights of the local hunters. While sport hunting brought them into close contact with princes and natives, the animals they sought to protect were crop raiders. On the one hand, they saw no qualms about killing game for meat, but on the other hand, they knew that depleting wild birds would harm crops, since most wild birds were insectivorous.

Pro-game officials felt Europeans could cooperate and ensure wildlife survival. In the 1880s, many provinces began declaring “open” and “closed” seasons for wild birds and animals in the government forests. Access was regulated: senior colonial officers did not need a license, but they too had to limit the number of animals shot to “the bag limits”. Special zones were set up around Poona for British Army soldiers and officers, as it was believed that tracking and hunting game would enhance their warfare skills.

The specific interests of sportsmen, mainly British but also Indian princes and aristocrats, were a powerful force in shaping policy. While wild boar were protected in some parts of the Bombay Presidency, the law restricted the capture of wild boar by tribes such as the Pardhis. In the government forests around Poona, wildfowl such as jungle grouse and spurred fowl could only be shot by license holders in the open season.

Also Read :  U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Again Sued Over Mexican Wolf Management Plan

The conflict was not between preservation and destruction. It was about protecting one species against the other. It was a conflict between the imperial officers and the natives, who hunted for a living and whose crops were being destroyed by wild animals.

Many colonial officers and naturalists believed that the destruction of game was caused by the natives. They forgot that since the colonial rule in the country, game meat was mainly consumed by the Europeans.

Several native tribes and groups survived by selling birds for food. They fished or hunted birds to sell in local markets. The imperial hunters disliked the crude methods and weapons the locals used to hunt the birds. They also expected locals to abide by the rules of European hunters, who formally maintained closed and open hunting seasons for shooting games to ensure a break during breeding.

As long as the inland districts were difficult to access, the indiscriminate hunting and trade in wild birds was limited to places like Bombay, Poona and Kolhapur. But when the railways opened up the districts of the interior to the enterprising traders and hunters of Bombay and Poona, game of all kinds had been sent to these towns in large quantities from distant parts of Khandesh, Gujarat and the central provinces. The government had received complaints that contaminated and spoiled game meat from Satara and Khandesh was being sold in Poona markets.

Poona also faced a unique problem around the same time. Many farms have been infested with white ants. A few years ago, a very good crop of grain was destroyed by rats. Although the government had exterminated sixteen million rats in Poona between 1876 and 1878, it has been estimated that rats and insects were destroying crops worth two thousand pounds sterling each year in the Poona district alone. It was believed that reintroducing wild birds would solve the problem. In order to protect wild birds from being hunted, the idea of ​​a game reserve was circulated.

Also Read :  A day to remember - fully funded trip to Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster

The Poona Sarvajanik Sabha was strongly opposed to creating a game reserve around Poona. She feared the creation of wildlife sanctuaries could lead to abuse of power by government officials who “bring innocent people to justice”.

When the Governing Council met in Poona to discuss Ashburner’s proposed legislation, there was a clear gulf between ‘pious’ European conservationist ideas and the interests of indigenous people. The basis of the bill was that the freedom to kill game was exercised in a way that threatened the extinction of certain bird and animal species.

Rao Bahadur Gopalrao Hari Deshmukh and Morarjee Gokuldas stated that there was no need to enact a wildlife law that would deprive natives who survived hunting of the rights. According to them, some native classes like Vaidoos, Wadars, Kaikadees made a living from hunting all year round. Although their numbers were small, the Wildlife Act would affect their livelihood.

Imperial administrators were also concerned that farmers and local hunters would be angry if hunting was banned. The Bombay government withdrew from the proposed bill. But the problem would recur as gaming sports adversely affected the lives of many.

The events surrounding the Game Bill in the 1880s set the stage for conservation laws that were enacted in the 20th century. It was passed into law in 1887 but was considered by many to be “too weak”. Poona continued to face the wrath of insects because of the extinction of game birds.

Source link