INTERNS SPEAK: Hunting and it’s impacts on the Indian Pangolin

INTERNS SPEAK: Hunting and it’s impacts on the Indian Pangolin

Krishna Pavan and Rohit Subhedar

Krishna Pavan and Rohit Subhedar are part of the internship program in ATREE that allows students to work on critical research programs.

Krishna and Rohit are part of the study in the northern Eastern Ghats where they are trying to assess the impact of hunting on endangered species like the Indian Pangolin.

According to data by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, nearly 6000 Pangolins were poached in India between 2009 to 2017. Rohit and Krishna are also recording the presence of Indian Pangolin using camera traps. The location for setting up the trap is on the basis of community interviews.  The area is divided into 30 grids covering an area of 750km2. Each grid has four cameras placed in strategic locations based on local input about Pangolin sighting.

This study not only aims to look at Pangolin presence in the Eastern Ghats but also aims to look at other animals that are hunted in the area. In a candid interview they spoke about their experiences in the field:

Q: Is hunting by the locals a fairly common practice here?

KRISHNA: During this study, we interviewed different tribal communities. However, numerically the Koyas and Konda Reddis dominate this region. Both tribal communities have their own traditions and customs.

The Koyas are mainly plains dwelling tribes.  Since they live in plains they have access to small towns; in fact most of them stay in big villages, and some also stay in major cities and enjoy a relatively better social status than other tribes in the region. Some Koya settlements are well developed with facilities such as schools and Primary Health Centers.

Whereas the Konda Reddis are hill tribes, they hunt all animals but some animals like the macaques, Langurs, and Gaurs are not relished for consumption. The Konda Reddis and their settlements are located further inside the forests. 

To illustrate how common it is, let me give a field example. After completing a few interviews, I was heading to back to our stay when I saw a small group of not more than 10 individuals of Konda Dora community climbing up the ghat by the road with bows in their hand.

 I asked them if they were going for a hunt; to my surprise they said that they’ve hunted a barking deer and were taking it back to their village. Although they refused to show me the deer, they said they were happy that they found a good hunt after a long time and it took a lot of effort to hunt it down.

Q: Is hunting Pangolin for money a fairly recent phenomenon here?

KRISHNA: Yes, while the tribes always hunted Pangolins for the meat, it is only in the past 10-15 years that they have became aware that the scales are valuable and can be sold. Prior to this knowledge, they used to just burn the scales. Today they claim that 1 Kilogram of scales fetches them anywhere between Rs.10, 000-Rs.15, 000.

Q: Will a poacher have access to the scales without local support?

ROHIT: The poacher always finds a way with or without local support.

KRISHNA: There is no organized industry here. Most locals do not know who they are selling these scales to. However, there exists superstition associated with Pangolins. They all lead up to the killing of the animal. The locals for instance make rings out of Pangolin scales which they believe wards off black magic. They also believe that a ring made of Pangolin scales breaks if someone is consuming poisoned food

Q: What is the perception about wildlife conservation amongst the locals of this region?

ROHIT: In the year 2015, I had attended a course in Conservation Science conducted by ATREE in the Eastern Ghats of AP. During the fieldwork I had encountered one hunting party in the forest. They were quite open to talk to and they spoke about their hunting gear, techniques and the animals they hunted.

Now in 2018 the situation is still the same! I found more people in the forest with a bow and arrow than wildlife. We have a good number of locals telling us that wildlife populations have gone down in the area due to hunting.

KRISHNA: The interviews focused on hunting practices and pangolin occurrence. Their perception on wildlife conservation was not questioned. Nonetheless, from what I have experienced few respondents showed concern towards decreasing forests and wildlife around them.
Krishna Pavan and Rohit Subhedar are pursuing masters in Wildlife Conservation from Institute of Environment Education and Research, BVDU, Pune. They are on an internship project with T.Ganesh and are helping Vikram Aditya with field surveys for his project on the Indian Pangolin in the northern Eastern Ghats of AP