Research study endorses game hunting of Deer to save Andaman Forest

Report by: 
Port Blair
10 Feb 2019

Conservationists claim game hunting of spotted deer should be allowed to save the tropical forests of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Documenting changes in the vegetation cover due to invasive herbivores in the Andaman Islands, researchers, Rauf Ali, Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning, Puducherry and Neil Pelkey, Department of Environmental Sciences and Information Technology, Pennsylvania, US in 2013 said that the destruction of forest cover is large and rapid enough to be seen by satellites and is caused mainly by spotted deer, and to some extent by elephants. While the population of elephants has come down over the years, the number of Chital (spotted deer) grew and spread to many islands in the Andaman Islands.
The researchers assessed changes between 1985 and 1995 and also between 2001 and 2005 across four sites including Interview Island in North Andaman having Deers and Elephants, Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park with deer, Jarawa Reserve having Deer and Little Andaman and noted that areas with deer have faster rates of degradation than those without them. Little Andaman has a significantly lower rate of degradation than both Interview Island and Jarawa Reserve for the 1985–1995 data. For the 2001–2005 dataset, Interview Island degraded faster than the Jarawa Reserve–MGMNP cluster, which in turn degraded faster than Little Andaman, claim researchers justifying that if regional or global change is responsible for the decline over a period of time, then it should be similar for all areas.
Spotted deer or Chital was introduced to the islands in the 1930s as a game animal. In the absence of predators, and being good swimmers, they have spread to every island in the Andaman group of islands except Little Andaman. The Chitals prevent regeneration by browsing on the seedlings. There is an abundance of stumps of browsed seedlings that can be seen and to assess the exact quantum of browsing damage would require studies. The internationally accepted scientific principle for dealing with invasive species is clear. In brief, if it is introduced and causes economic and environmental dam-age, remove it. To protect the tropical forest of Andamans, their removal will stop the deterioration. There are no other herbivores in competition in these areas, and thus multispecies invasions are not a problem. If a policy change allowing hunting to take place is made, then the removals would actually generate revenue for the Andaman & Nicobar Administration, assert researchers.
Elephants were brought from mainland India in the 1880s. In 1962, a timber company on Interview Island went bankrupt and released its 40 elephants into the forest. Their population was reported to be 31 in 2001. Elephants too have damaged the vegetation badly in recent years and have created a situation where forest regeneration rates are higher than normal. Elephant damage is seen in the form of trees that have been knocked down, or damaged because their bark has been stripped, they said.