A Conversation with Delhi’s Wildlife Warden
India’s rapidly urbanizing, fast-spreading capital city, with a population of about 16 million people, hosts many more animals than monkeys – wild boar, mongoose, snakes, packs of stray dogs, feral cats, occasional cattle, rats, mice and all manner of insect life that also call Delhi their home.
India Ink spoke to D.M. Shukla, who has been the city’s wildlife warden for five years, about the difficulties of containing stray animals. Mr. Shukla says that humans, including animal protection charities, are a big part of the problem.
Why does the city have such a problem with stray animals?
A. Urbanization is one reason. Most of the metro cities, even those in states like Jharkhand have these problems, it is not just Delhi.
We have to have better civic amenities to ensure that this does not happen. But there is a problem: some groups are not interested in tackling this problem, including welfare groups and the NGO (nongovernmental organization) people. They have reservations, they worry we are not handling animals in a humane manner.
With stray dogs, nobody takes the responsibility of getting them registered. At least pet dogs are supposed to be registered.
Not as an official, but even as a common citizen you face a problem. After 10 p.m. you do not want to go out because of the stray dogs. People take a stick to the parks to protect themselves.
What has the state done to tackle this problem?
A. We started to campaign. To rid our city of stray cattle, the government had identified that dairies would be shifted outside the cities to prevent them from troubling residents.
Now they have moved all the cows away, saying they produce methane and it harms the ozone.
We drink their milk, but we cannot stand the cow dung.
Q. Do the religious sentiments and misgivings of people also affect your work?
A. Some communities in the city feed the monkeys by the car full. They bring whole cars full of food and feed the monkeys. They do not give a care about the hungry children on the street, but will feed the monkeys.
The monkey menace is a problem and people were lodging complaints about being attacked and bitten so we had to tackle it. Now we spend nearly 1 crore (10 million) rupees (about $180,000) a year on feeding the captured monkeys.
They get what even human beings in India don’t get.
Are bats also a problem in the city?
A. The bat population has been an issue, urbanization affects their population.
There are different varieties of bats in Delhi. Some bats feed on fruits others are carnivorous.
At Motilal Marg, where the chief minister of Delhi lives, there are bats hanging from the trees, thousands of them.
We do not have enough studies about their population, how they live, what they need. We need more research on them to do anything for conservation and protection.
Some people think that bats are not auspicious. But it is a life form, what can be said about being auspicious or not?
What should be done to solve the problem of stray animals?
A. The monkey menace is everywhere, Benaras, Rajasthan. People have been living with monkeys for ages. Now you want to eliminate them altogether? Even the monkeys have become intelligent! They do not get into trap bridges easily.
We should be planting trees, not counting monkeys.
Can the NGOs provide some support to the government in this?
A. Sometimes NGOs have a commercial goal. If they agree to pay for trapped monkeys — they will, say, give us 2,000 rupees per monkey — if we do it then they start crying out about how we catch in an inhuman manner.
If a cow comes at you the first thing you do is protect yourself even if there is some use of force, involved.
But the moment we conduct drives we start getting phone calls complaining. They are not concerned what the end goal is, or that we have successfully caught the animal and prevented it from harming them only.
Almost 14,000 monkeys have been captured, the municipal corporation of Delhi should be given credit.
What can we, or they, do? The population of monkeys is so large that it never finishes.