By Akash Vashishtha, Ajay Kumar
They belong to the same family and graze the same terrain. Yet, their fates could not have been more dissimilar. For blue bulls or Nilgai, stability in numbers, unlike its more vulnerable and better protected antelope counterpart, the blackbucks, is a curse.
The animal had regularly been declared a vermin and given permission by various states to kill or shoot them in order to contain its population and prevent it from raiding agricultural crops.
Though blackbucks too nibble on crops, the damage is regarded as less extensive than that caused by their more surefooted compatriots, termed as the largest Asian antelope.
This prevailing sentiment was what prompted Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar too to proffer culling certain animals like blue bulls and wild boar as a solution to the problems faced by farmers.
The minister's statement (seeking report from states to declare certain overpopulated species as vermin for a limited period of time), however, has irked and alarmed wildlife activists and experts alike, with many fearing that it might critically upset the country's ecological balance.
Under India's Wildlife Protection Act, all the three animals - the blue bull, blackbuck and wild boar - are regarded as protected species, though the degree of protection offered varies according to the Schedules under which they are classified. Blackbucks, for instance, enjoy the highest degree of protection along with tigers, lions, leopards and elephants (under Schedule I of the Wildlife Act). Killing these animals can fetch imprisonment for up to five years and a fine of Rs 25,000, as Bollywood actor Salman Khan discovered in 2006.
Blue bulls on the other hand, due to their sheer number, are placed under Schedule III of the act along with wild boars, disregarding the fact that blue bulls often coexist with blackbucks in several agricultural landscapes.
"The behaviour of black buck is not so different from blue bulls and are often seen residing in one particular area of the forest. Declaring blue bulls as vermins has the possibility of blackbucks getting targeted," says Rao Mann Singh, former village chief of Farukhnagar. It was in the forests of neighbouring Jhajjar district that the late India cricket captain Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi gunned down a blackbuck in 2005 and was subsequently booked under the Wildlife Act. Though an exact figure on the number of blackbucks in the region is not known, local estimates put it at around 100.
Others like Sarvadaman Singh Oberoi, a wildlife activist and legal expert, feel that culling animals can add momentum to a thriving black market trade in the region. "It can give a free hand to hunting wild animals, followed by illegal trade in their body parts."
While the chief wildlife warden of a state has the right to empower people to hunt animals declared as vermins, the carcass remains a property of the state.
In other words, you cannot take away the meat or any other body part of the animal and sell it. Villagers, however, claim that there is a flourishing black market for blue bull body parts such as skin, teeth, nail and meat in UP's Mathura region.
Leading wildlife conservationist Belinda Wright, while admitting that the black market sale of blue bull meat is a "huge concern", hastens to add that the apprehensions of the local communities with regard to the agricultural damage caused by blue bulls cannot be ignored. "It is a complicated issue," she says. "When we are looking at conservation, we cannot ignore the needs of the local communities."