Does India now have too many tigers? State minister’s ‘cull’ comment sparks row

Representational image (Getty Images)
Representational image (Getty Images)

A state forest minister in India is facing the wrath of wildlife lovers and conservationists across the country over his incendiary comments about tigers and their “culling”.

The forest and wildlife protection minister of Kerala, A K Saseendran made a bizarre comment about the culling of tigers in Wayanad wildlife sanctuary in the state after he allegedly received complaints of tiger attacks from the locals.

He was quoted as saying by the New Indian Express that “the government is contemplating moving the Supreme Court for permission to cull tigers”.

He said: “Though the department considered population control of tigers through sterilisation, experts have opined that it’s not possible. So, Kerala is contemplating moving the top court.”

These comments have outraged naturalists and wildlife lovers in India who called out the minister’s ignorance. In India it is illegal under the Wildlife Protection Act to kill tigers in almost all circumstances, except for exceptional cases where a tiger is declared a man-eater.

The tiger is India’s national animal. According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s latest available data from 2018, there are about 2,967 tigers in India – more than 70 per cent of the world’s tiger population.

A tiger fatally attacked a 50-year-old local on 13 January in the Mananthavady forest range in Kerala’s Wayanad district. After his death, the minister claimed that the angry locals demanded that the tiger be killed.

The state forest minister, Mr Saseendran has since been heavily criticised. Rajesh Gopal, the former secretary general of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, dubbed the Kerala government’s discussion of culling tigers in Wayanad “appalling”.

He was quoted as saying by the local media that “the proposal reveals the pathetic situation in which we are living”.

Mr Gopal added: “I don’t have words to express my anguish… We used to cite Kerala as the best example of being proactive in conservation. We never expected such statements from the state.”

Later, having faced a backlash, the minister moved to clarify his position telling BBC News that “we have to find a solution to control the animals... I am not in a hurry to cull”.

In another interview he put the interpretation of his initial comments down to “language limitations”.

He added: “Culling is not practical. Other options, like relocation, involve comparatively fewer legal formalities. I have directed the department officials to probe such possibilities.”

He also agreed that killing a man-eater and culling tigers were different things.

Even after rowing back the remarks, the Kerala government has not rejected the idea of a tiger cull completely. Mr Saseendran told the New Indian Express that the state government may yet approach the central government seeking amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 so as to make culling and shifting of wild animals that cause threats to human life legal.

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Mr Saseendran said: “As a state where the number of wild animals has registered a phenomenal growth, Kerala wants a leeway in dealing with the human-animal conflict.”

He continued: “The Wildlife Protection Act is no longer useful in dealing with the issues that arise now like human-wild animal conflict. It was drafted and enacted at a time when there were no cases of wild animals attacking humans and farmland.”