Friday, 30 November 2007

Marlakunta dinner: What's the meat on the menu?


Published in The Indian Express on Sunday, November 15, 1998
By Syed Akbar
Come Sunday and loudspeakers blare in scores of villages straddling
forests and wildlife sanctuaries in Andhra Pradesh. Right from 6.00 am,
they call out for buyers of adavi mamsam (wildlife meat), which is sold at
several points in the villages.
The meat of wild mammals and birds, even the highly endangered ones, is
openly on sale, from the forest-side villages in Khammam, East and West
Godavari, Warangal and Adilabad to Prakasam, Karimnagar, Krishna, Nellore,
Chittoor and Cuddapah districts. According to an estimate, on any given
Sunday, wildlife meat weighing about two tonnes is sold in these areas.
And it is in these very parts that Andhra Pradesh Major Irrigation
Minister Tummala Nageswara Rao is said to have hosted his now famous
dinner where meat of endangered animals was reportedly served.
The list of animals which end up on the table includes nilgai, cheetal
(spotted deer), gaur (Indian bison), sambar, muntjac (barking deer),
blackbuck, langoor, wild boars, chowsingha (four-hornedantelope), chital
and mouse deer and birds like jungle fowl, peafowl, ducks, teals,
cormorant, spoonbills, storks, flamingoes, partridges, quails, seagulls,
snipes, spot bills, pelicans, doves, white ibis and terns. Such is the
demand for bird meat that the common sparrow has almost disappeared from
most areas in the Krishna district.
In seaside villages, one can occasionally find the meat of sea turtles and
dugongs (sea cows). There are other animals which are hunted for
commercial purposes like panthers, sloth bear, marsh crocodiles, pythons
and wild monkeys. ``Give me your address, we will bring the meat,''
hunters proudly tell visitors to these villages.
The price varies from animal to animal. The meat of the wild boar is the
cheapest of all. Sold at Rs 70 a kg, it is most widely available. The meat
of blackbuck, deer, sambar and gaur is available at a higher price,
ranging between Rs 150 and Rs 300 a kg. But the price can come down if the
catch is large. Bison meat is sold at Marudumilli and otherareas in West
Godavari district. Even the wild oxen is not spared.
Since peafowls (peacocks and peahens) are difficult to trace, each bird
commands a price between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000. At some places, the bird
is sold at even Rs 5,000. Sparrows, quails and cranes are sold even in
Vijayawada by small-time poachers.
The animals hunted during the week are dressed and kept in deep freezers
for sale on Sundays. ``If the Forest Department conducts a surprise check
on shops and houses having deep freezers in Khammam district, it will come
out with hundreds of kilos of meat of wild animals,'' a villager in
Polwoncha says, adding that not one major dinner hosted by an influential
person here goes without adavi mamsam being served.
The animals are mainly hunted with the help of electrocution, large-size
nets, guns and arrows. The electrocution method can prove dangerous to
humans too. Earlier this year, three persons were electrocuted after they
accidentally came in contact with a live electric wirespread around in
Kothagudem forests to kill wild animals.
At Gangineni in Krishna district, once an animal is hunted, it is brought
to the village centre and auctioned. The bid can go up to Rs 3,000 for a
langoor and Rs 5,000 for a sambar. The bidder then sells the meat in
retail. The hunters, usually local youths, take away the head and viscera
before the auction. This correspondent saw a heap of wild boar meat being
readied for sale in a village in Khammam district last Wednesday.
Even gangs have come up for organised poaching in Khammam, Adilabad and
Karimnagar districts, though hunting is still generally carried on by
local villagers. Besides, during every major festival, influential persons
from Tiruvuru, Nuzvidu, Vissannapet and surrounding areas in Krishna
district are known to head for the forests in tractors. Animals are hunted
down and cooked on the spot. Because of unchecked poaching, Khammam, the
only Andhra district with 51 per cent forest cover, has almost no deer
left. With the herbivorousanimals disappearing, predators, particularly of
the cat family, have been affected. The cheetah was last spotted in Andhra
Pradesh in 1955, and the panthers and tigers are disappearing. Migratory
birds have also stopped coming to Kolleru lake because of the ecological
devastation it's facing.
Poaching has made the Great Indian Bustard, too, a rare species. There are
now only a handful of these birds in the Rollapadu sanctuary in Kurnool
district. Only half-a-dozen Jerdon's Courser are alive in Sri
Lankamalleswara sanctuary in Cuddapah. The bird was spotted by Salim Ali,
the great ornithologist, over a decade ago.
Not surprisingly, officials are involved in the large-scale poaching. A
few months ago, a deer kept unauthorisedly by an IAS man at his official
residence in a coastal district, died. The superintendent of police of a
district in Telangana is known to have issued a severe warning to his
officers and constables who were using official weapons to poach wild
boars, sambars and blackbucks.
TheForest Department seems powerless to do anything about this. The state,
which has a forest cover of 63,814 sq km, has barely 5,000 men on the
field, including rangers, deputy rangers, foresters and forest guards.
Those actually looking after the wildlife section are even fewer. A senior
official regrets that the only animal left untouched in the Andhra jungles
is the hyena. ``Except hyena and vultures, all animals are killed, whether
it is for their meat, skin or horns,'' he says.
Even Forest Minister K.E. Prabhakar recently admitted that due to a
shortage of staff, a forest guard had to cover a radius of at least 40 km
a day, which was quite impossible. He announced that the Government
proposed to recruit 600 beat officers to strengthen the force.
The Kolleru and Krishna sanctuaries, which spread over an area of about
900 sq km, have only three foresters, two guards and six watchers. As a
result, many endangered animals, including dugongs, fishing cats, otters
and estuarine crocodiles are regularlykilled.
One of the reasons why incidents of poaching increase by the day is that
poachers are seldom nabbed. On the few occasions they are, they are not
convicted. The Eluru Wildlife Management Division and the Krishna wildlife
sanctuary have collected around Rs 50,000 as fines in 15 cases of
violation of the Wildlife Act in the past one year alone. The cases
include poaching of rare bird species and selling of teal and deer meat at
Ramasingavaram in Pedavegi mandal of West Godavari. However, no arrests
have been made in this connection in either the Krishna or West Godavari
districts in the past two years. When Eluru Divisional Forest Officer
(Wildlife) was asked about this, he said: ``We did not arrest the poachers
as we imposed heavy fines.''
Environmentalists criticise this approach, saying that unless the poachers
are jailed, it's difficult to check the killing of wild animals. The
Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, provides for both imprisonment and
fines.In fact, if the regulatory system waseffective, the famous Khammam
dinner would never have taken place. Since the beginning of this month
alone, in Khammam, five persons have been arrested and two vehicles seized
for transporting meat of wild animals. In all, the poachers were carrying
about 100 kg of wild boar meat and 70 kg of horns of herbivores like deer,
blackbuck and sambar. But clearly, they knew they could get away with
their ill-gotten booty.

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