Move to declare open season on wild boar despite warnings

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The collateral damage of increased wild boar hunting would be high.
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The Agriculture Ministry will seek Cabinet approval to lift the ban on the transport and sale of wild boar meat in the face of opposition from wildlife activists, citing the need to prevent the protected animal’s raids on cropland. Agriculture Ministry media director W.M.D. Wanninayake said wild animals caused about Rs. 18 billion damage of crops annually, with wild boar the major culprit as well as elephants, monkeys, porcupines and peafowl.

A wild boar caght in a snare in Nuwara Eliya

“Apparently natural predators of wild boar such as leopards and jackals have decreased, so we feel there is an increase in boars, which are being found in small forest patches even in Kandy and Colombo,” Mr. Wanninayake said.

He added that the ministry had carried out a random and rapid survey and reached the conclusion that crop damage by wild boar had increased.
The wild boar consumes ground vegetation, soil-dwelling creatures and carrion, also often raiding crops if their habitat is close to crop fields. Feeding in small groups, wild boar are active at night.

At present, a farmer can kill a wild boar if it trespasses onto his property but the meat cannot be transported or sold. “Last year, 15,000 guns were issued to farmers along with two lakhs of bullets with the main aim of protecting their crops, but only a handful of bullets had been used,” Mr. Wanninayake said.

Wild boar are, however, already being killed in large numbers and sold under cover as there is demand for the flesh. The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) warns that the legalisation and thereby liberalisation of the sale and trade of wild boar meat will result in unsustainable slaughter. It fears that increased demand for wild boar meat will make inroads into populations in national parks and sanctuaries.

“From an eco-system perspective, the wild boar is an important species,” the WNPS stated. “Free-ranging wild boar feed on animal carcasses, a scavenging role that significantly reduces the disease risk from rotting carcasses … They also feed on eggs, grubs and larvae of many agricultural pests, as well as weeds like sedges.”

Conservationists also point out the difficulties of regulating the wild boar meat trade if the law is relaxed. Although wild boar meat is traded widely undercover in the countryside only on 38 occasions last year did raids result in the seizure of meat offered for sale, according to Department of Wildlife Conservation sources.

Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunawardane confirms that Wild boar is not a protected species under Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO), so a farmer can shoot a trespassing wild pig without issue. But if transport and sale is legalized, DWC will has practical logistical, man power and other issues in regulating any trade of wild boar meat. “There is no way someone distinguish whether the flesh belong to a wild boar killed in a farm land or a from a protected area. The meat will be transport after packetted, so meat of other animals too would be freely transported” Mr.Gunawardane pointed out.

Change of social attitude due to legalization of wild boar meat would also be a negative impact. “First the move will change mindset of farmers to become hunters as they can now earn money by selling meat. Secondly, when wild boar meat can reach cities, people that had never tasted wild board will develop an appetite for venison which will create more demand”. Mr.Gunawardane stressed, that This is against the spirit of wildlife conservation.

Activists also fear a major problem would be caused by the methods of killing wild boar if their meat became a profitable big seller. Already, illegal methods such as trap guns, snares and “hakka patas” (explosives hidden in fruit and other food sources that blow off an animal’s jaws when bitten on) are being used to kill wild boar, and they also kill numbers of non-target species.

Elephant died eating Hakka Patas at Rambewa, A’pura – Oct, 02nd (c) DWC ape pituwa

Leading wildlife experts, elephant researcher Dr. Prithviraj Fernando and the former director-general of the Department of Wildlife, Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya, said current laws were more than adequate to prevent wild boars grazing on crops.

“The sale and transport of wild boar meat will legalise bush meat trade which goes against today’s world opinion. We are also due to host the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) next year where bush meat trade will be one of the important issues. If laws are relaxed, Sri Lanka’s move to legalise bush meat trade will no doubt be a topic of discussion bringing shame to the host country,” Dr. Fernando added.

“A farmer can kill a wild boar that destroys his crops,” Dr. Pilapitiya said. “But the new law looks like Sri Lanka is promoting the commercialisation of ‘bush meat’.” Other experts were also forceful in their opposition to the government’s plan.

“Where is the scientific evidence of an ‘exploding’ wild boar population?” leopard experts Dr. Andrew Kittle and Anjali Watson demanded.
They raised the possibility that forest loss and increased human encroachment into wilderness areas might be resulting in wild boars feeding in cropland.

Dr. Kittle and Ms Watson added: “Opening up a legal market for wild boar meat – which is essentially what is being proposed – requires a long-term and concerted effort to manage properly …. there would need to be regulations in terms of hunting seasons, annual quotas, licences and monitoring.”
Dr. Kittle and Ms. Watson revealed that data collected by the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust showed that in the past 10 years at least 38 leopards had been killed by snares set mostly for wild boar, with the actual toll probably “far higher”.

Leopard killed by Snares – Sept, 26 Nawalapitiya (c) DWC

“Snaring is an extremely unpleasant way to kill an animal as it results in extensive suffering and can drag on for a long time. We know of a young female leopard that was caught in a snare in December of 2017 or January of 2018 and only died from the wound in May.”

One of India’s leading conservationists, Ajay Desai, warned against kneejerk solutions. He said India too had wildlife conflict involving wild herbivores that grew more abundant in certain areas, with nothing been done about the consequences until local people put political pressure on authorities.
“So action was initiated when there were too many complaints and too much pressure, which meant quick action had to be taken and that meant no proper planning process and only quick kneejerk reactions to the crisis,” Mr. Desai said.

Trunk injury from snare -kalawewa (c) Dr.Prithviraj Fernando

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