They’re beautiful but within themselves they carry the seeds of destruction.

Spotted deer were introduced to the Andaman Islands either in the early 1900s or the 1930s. The exact date doesn’t matter, and nor does the actual number. What matters is that, in the absence of predators, they have multiplied and spread, swimming from one island to another. In each island their population has shot up, and they browse relentlessly on the seedlings of the forest trees that regenerate there. They avoid browsing on only two of the hundreds of species of trees found there. Forests of Pongamia (pongam) monocultures are taking over the coastlines, and Lagerstroemia, leafless for most of the year, is taking over the once lush rainforests of the interior. If left unchecked, the fabled forests of the Andamans will, sooner or later, be a thing of the past.

Options for control

What can be done to control the deer? Sterilisation is too expensive and chancy. Translocation is possible, but to where? Back to mainland India? Which Government will bear the cost? The logical solution is culling, but then we have to deal with the vociferous animal rights brigade. Apparently the ‘right’ of an individual animal is more important than the unique ecosystem it destroys.

After almost a decade of inaction and hoping that the problem would go away, the Andaman Administration has written to the Centre, asking this animal species be declared vermin in the islands. Now it’s the Centre’s turn to avoid taking any action. Somehow the matter is too unimportant to find a place on the agenda of the National Board for Wildlife, whose members’ only preoccupation seems to be to avoid controversy and hence ensure their re-nomination onto the Board. Even declaring the deer vermin is not going to solve the problem of how it is to be removed from National Parks where shooting is banned.

The deer are only one of several problem animals. The most spectacular are the 30 or so elephants that were released on Interview Island about 50 years ago, when the logging company using them went bankrupt. They debark and knock down the trees, killing them. The deer then make sure that no regeneration takes place.

A few years ago, an offer was made by the Berlin Zoo to translocate these elephants to mainland India, provided they got a couple of young ones for the zoo. Again our brilliant environmentalists leapt into action. The elephants would feel cold, and they would miss the society of their peers! This seems to be less desirable than dying of starvation, which is what appears to be happening now. Anyway the offer, tentative as it was, has since been withdrawn.

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