The Tamil Nadu government has offered them loans to change professions, but they see no viable alternatives

Banned from hunting endangered animals these Krishnagiri hunters face an uncertain futureImage: One of the hunters with a mongoose
news Tuesday, April 05, 2016 - 17:22

Disturbed by the strict order from the Tamil Nadu forest department to the hunter community in Krishnagiri district, Ashokan, quotes Sita from the Ramayana: “Onakku sikkina dhaan ni Sikari illena ni bikhari” meaning “Only if you can hunt you are a hunter, otherwise you are a beggar.”

Forty-five-year-old Ashokan belongs to the Vaagiri community of hunters living in Sikkarimedu village in Krishnagiri. The community, which has been prohibited from hunting snakes, mongoose and monitor lizards for many years, has recently been told that it cannot hunt Japanese quail either, which they say has been a tradition for them. Although Japanese quail hunting was banned in 2011, enforcement has been tightened in the district since the beginning of the year.

Ashokan take pride in quoting Sita, and proudly adds that she said this to two boys from his Vaagiri community.

“But it is disappointing that we who have been born in a Sikari’s womb (hunter’s womb) have been forced to sell plastic flowers,” he said.

The community with a strength of more than 2000 people spread across the district, has taken to making and selling plastic flowers and selling gold-plated jewellery after the ban. However, they want the forest department to strike down the ban on hunting rat snakes, mongoose and monitor lizards, which they used to sell as meat and as medicine for body ailments. The recent ban on quail hunting, they feel, heaps further problems on them.  

Kochalamma, a resident of the village says that there used to be a time when the men would sell buckets of quail meat, which is considered to be tastier than any other bird, right alongside the highway.

“I know it has been banned, but I can assure you that drinking the blood of mongoose mixed in some brandy can cure any stomach ailment. The oil extracted from a monitor lizard can cure any joint pain. And the meat of both is considered to be 10 times tastier than chicken. The meat is supposed to be an aphrodisiac and can cure infertility,” she claims.

She is one of the 350 people living in Sikkarimedu village where, in January, 2 people were allegedly framed and held in police custody in Bengaluru for 26 days for allegedly selling monitor lizards, which is among the endangered species whose hunting is banned by the Protection of Wildlife Act of 1972.

“These meats were sold for Rs 1000 to Rs 1500 a kg, or even more if people wanted it cooked and served. The money made through the jewellery business can hardly match up to selling quail meat,” she added.

A local doctor, who has recommended these treatments in severe cases, said, under condition of anonymity, that the idea of treatment with monitor lizard and mongoose meat, blood or oil is similar to having cod-liver oil or even having chicken as a source of protein.

Not everybody is in favour of trading in these products, however. Jalkesh, the head of the Vaagiri community in Krishnagiri, denied that the animal products have any medicinal value and said that those who came were either being cheated or, in the case of those who bought aphrodisiacs, came only for sex with the local women.

When asked how he is sure of that, he said, “When I would ask the customers if they felt there was any improvement, they would just deny it. In fact, the whole business has brought shame to the community. There have been times when they would come with (alcoholic) drinks. After eating the meat, they would ask girls for sex. One such issue turned into a big problem and since then people here have stopped doing the business.”

Rajendran, the district forest officer, Krishnagiri, says that poaching activities in Krishnagiri district have been brought under control. “Most of the poachers are from Pudukottai district. However, there are middlemen in the district and they need to be caught. In the last few months we have seized over 50 vehicles transporting monitor lizards and most of these are from Karnataka, especially from Bengaluru,” said.

 

 

The governmement has offered to give a loan of Rs 40,000 to each family of the community, after the 2016 elections, so that people can find other jobs, said Jalkesh.

However, this doesn’t offer much hope to the people here. “We hardly earn Rs 2000 a month by making plastic floral ornaments, and we cannot depend on this forever,” said Ashokan.

Besides the Vaagiri, there are also others in the region who depend on trade in these banned products. Maya (name changed), whose family belongs to a community that sells poached animals and “medicines” made out of them in secret, says, “People from Bengaluru are our biggest buyers. I have had big officers coming for cooked monitor lizard or mongoose meat. They are ready to pay any amount we demand.”

The ornament business just cannot offer a similar profit margin, she says, adding that her family also sells monitor lizard oil, commonly known as “udumbu nei”, which she extracts when the customers ask only for meat or blood.

We do poach animals once in a while, when there are special requests, says Maya as her husband carefully pulls a live mongoose, out of a bag. He says that it was caught 3 days ago.

“This is for a minister who is suffering from ulcers. I hope he comes before this one dies of hunger,” says Maya, as her husband puts back the frightened animal inside. 

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