Selling the blood of monitor lizards is against the law, but should we not be sensitive to tribal communities?

Monitor Lizard poaching and a bloodthirst to demonise a tribal community in Tamil NaduYouTube
news Animal cruelty Saturday, October 29, 2016 - 15:10

In a video that surfaced on Wednesday, a glass of tomato-red substance is being passed around while few men mix it with clear liquid. It’s unclear what the substance is, until the camera pans to a flinching monitor lizard, held by the neck with its tail tied. Blood is being drawn from a chunk of flesh in its body as men take turns to sip from the glass. 

Forest officials sprung to action once the video burst out on social media. “Five teams were formed on October 23, after the video came to the department’s notice, to track down the people seen in it and the two men were picked up near Tambaram today,” C Murugesan, a forest officer, told The Hindu. Both were from the Narikurava community. The substance – believed to be the blood of the monitor lizard - was purportedly mixed with soda and sold for Rs.200. 

This is however, not the first time a gruesome scene like this is being witnessed. In Krishnagiri last year, members of a family from the Narikurava community were captured on video slitting the throat of a live monitor lizard to collect the reptile's blood. The blood was mixed with liquor and reportedly sold to locals as having aphrodisiac properties.

Monitor lizards are among the severely endangered species of lizards and are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act. Anyone caught killing them can be punished with a fine of Rs. 25,000 and 5 years in jail.

In a Times of India report, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau officials said the tribal community traps monitor lizards in the forests of Pudukottai, Aranthangi and Palani. It is then transported to various states for its reported therapeutic properties. 

The dialogue has long revolved around rehabilitation of Narikuravas from their hunter-gatherer lifestyle and educating them about the environmental impact of poaching. Since 2014, programs have been held across districts where poaching has been reported, and rehabilitation was offered in the form of alternative job opportunities and counselling. Muzzling of guns, however, was not possible because of the license issued by the Chief Wildlife Warden under Section 11 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 to permit hunting.

While the swift action against the men have been lauded across the state, the discourse, Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist and journalist, feels, has been half-baked. 

Unsettled by the celebratory comments and demands for the men to be thrashed, he believes the discourse is far more complex and layered than those popular on social media. 

“Amidst all the back-thumping and casteist "gypsy"-bashing that ensued, there were a few voices that tried to offer a different perspective -- that Narikuravas are marginalised, outside our system and yet bound by our laws and rules. To this, it was pointed out that they chose to remain outside our system despite attempts to "rehabilitate" them and offer them career alternatives,” he said, adding that a photograph in circulation of the arrested men was wrong on many counts. 

While the act was condemnable, Nityanand says those living lifestyles unlike those of the tribal community are no superior, but added that he did not mean to underestimate the good work animal activists were doing. 

“We are in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction -- the only extinction in the history of the planet that is human-made. And this extinction was not triggered by Narikuravas hunting the monitor lizard or your house cat. It was caused by the lifestyles of the likes of us in this discussion thread (on social media), the likes of those who would like to have the Narikuravas rehabilitated.”


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