Terrified Live Bait

Human dwellings keep expanding, but wildlife habitats keep shrinking. Wild life understands no boundaries and so animal-human encounters occur. Whose fault is it then, that leopards from forests invade surrounding human civilisation? Panic makes humans capture them usually with the help of dogs, goats or calves used as live bait. It is illegal. It is also unethical. Live bait is a living animal considered prey (food) that is used to deliberately lure another animal.

A ban on the use of live bait was one of the several suggestions given by Beauty Without Cruelty to the Government of India when the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Act, 1960 was amended in 1982. However, despite this legislation, against the use of live bait, BWC has found that none other than the Government of India (including a few Defence units) uses live bait as prey for carnivorous animals. Live bait has also been used by the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai, in order to trap a leopard.

On several such occasions a strong protest has been lodged by BWC, resulting in an assurance given (a few signed by Union Ministers themselves) that the practice would be discontinued. Nevertheless, some wild life authorities have cunningly devised a special trap for the purpose: in one compartment the live bait — usually a dog — is kept; the other compartment traps the big cat — usually a leopard. Although the dog cannot be physically harmed by the leopard, it is subjected to night-long, unimaginable terror. It’s no different for a poor goat.

Beauty Without Cruelty has recommended to the Ministry of Environment & Forests, that if and when it becomes absolutely necessary to trap a leopard because it has become a ‘nuisance’ the remains of the animal it has last killed be used as bait (never a live animal such as a calf, dog, goat or hen) as the leopard, unable to finish eating its prey in one sitting, invariably returns the next day to the same place where it killed its prey.

BWC has also pointed out that leopards and hyenas thought to be the cause of missing or mauled children is much later found to be innocent as it has come to light that some psychotic human beings were involved in the murders.

In 2000, BWC had got to know that a lion census was planned at the Gir National Park and that live bait (calves) would be utilised. Despite the Gujarat Chief Minister’s office assuring us that live baits would not be used, we received a contrary reply from the State Forest Department official who later in person justified the use of live bait on the grounds that they were going to use “only” male buffalo calves which are “uneconomical” and “useless” which even otherwise are not allowed to survive at dairies. However, as it so happened, the census was cancelled due to early, heavy rainfall! Since then, we are told, the direct sighting method is being utilised for the census.

Although it was, we believe, stopped for some years, buffalo calves were again used as live bait in 2008 to attract lions for tourists at Gir sanctuary. The Chief Minister of Gujarat was informed of our suspicion that the Forest Department was hand-in-glove with the villagers/farmers who supply and tie down calves and buffalos as live bait for the Gir lions in order to attract tourists and also cheat the State Government by claiming compensation for their “lost” or killed cattle.

“Lion Shows” as they were called, were terribly gruesome: a buffalo/cow calf was tied to one end of a long rope, whereas the other end of the rope was attached to a tractor. As soon as a lion approached the calf, the tractor drove down the hillock (on which the tractor and calf waited) dragging the calf thus making the lion, along with other lions, chase it. The rope was then cut off and the lions attacked, killed and ate the poor traumatised calf while tourists watched. No photography was allowed – we know the reason was not because it disturbed the lions as stated by those responsible.

BWC’s complaint to the Chief Minister led to the Gujarat State Government promptly investigating the matter, as a result of which the Forest Department claimed that the shows with live baits were outside the protected areas! So BWC again wrote to Chief Minister and others pointing out that it matters little whether the live bait is laid inside or outside the sanctuary limits because the fact remains that it is illegal and the Forest Department of Gujarat State are accountable. The end result was that the State’s Forest Minister declared that two forest officials had been asked to keep a vigil on the activities.

Once again in March 2012, BWC got to know that old, weak or unwanted cattle (buffaloes, bulls, cows and male calves) were tied in farmlands adjacent to the sanctuary thus enticing the Gir lions to come and kill them after sundown. Such kills and feasting was often witnessed by tourists for a price. And, the farm owner could claim and get compensation for his killed cattle. In response to BWC’s request we hope the Gujarat government’s Forest Department will quickly wake up to the illegality of the situation and take stern steps to halt it before it is too late because the lions have already begun attacking Maldharis (people who rear cattle) when they take their animals to graze.

In June 2011, the Karnataka forest personnel trapped a leopard by using a live dog. BWC fails to understand why live bait was used. Once again, we asked the Ministry of Environment & Forests to send a circular to all Chief Wildlife Wardens informing them that using live animals to trap wildlife is inhumane and should never be practiced, since it attracts the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

To sum up, when a wild animal kills in nature, the prey has a fair chance of survival by fleeing as fast as it can. But, when the prey is put down as live bait, it is downright cruel and unethical.

Resolve therefore never to support the use of live bait and if known to have occurred, report it.

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