Here They Come!Encounters with Wild Boars in Bhauwala, Uttarakhand, India
© Copyright 2023 by Vijayluxmi Bose
Photo by the author.
This descriptive essay demonstrates a socio-behavioural phenomenon of the villagers that I have observed in a small hamlet in Bhauwala in rural Dehradun, Uttarakhand in a forested area quite close to the famous Rajaji National Park. It also gives the reader a window into several issues of universal relevance, such as man-animal conflicts, conservation dilemmas and a glimpse into a corner of Uttarakhand that has a wild boar population.
Before we address these issues, let us set the context of the situation. Bhauwala in rural Dehradun is a valley – scooped out of the Garhwal Himalayas – surrounded by hills, crowned by Mussorie - one of the most famous hill stations in the region. Farmers are predominantly engaged in subsistence farming. Major crops grown in the state are rice (Dehradun rice is a brand known all over India), wheat, maize, corn, soybean, pulses, oilseeds and a number of fruits and vegetables. Around the year 2007, my (late) husband built a small cottage directly opposite the forested area in Bhauwala. In my account, I shall call this what my children named it ‘The Green House’. My husband moved to Bhauwala around that time, and I became a frequent visitor a year later.
As I write this, I have witnessed many changes in Bhauwala – the younger generation prefer white collar jobs in Dehradun city as opposed to the back-breaking labour of farming, for instance, there are cement houses and more traffic in this tiny hamlet. But at the time I am narrating this story, almost every house had a small patch of land which the family cultivated. And therefore, in a community where cattle were treated as family and dogs were loved by one and all, wild boars were perceived as a threat to crops and therefore hated. However, nothing could be done about this apart from bursting crackers and beating drums throughout the night to drive away wild boars who foraged when corn and maize ripened and rooted among the potato and vegetable beds to get at the tender roots and shoots at random. Forest guards have quarters in Bhauwala right at the edge of the forest, therefore the chances of clandestinely hunting the animals are out of the question. Therefore, how do the villagers deal with the anger and hatred that they have for wild boars who foraged on their carefully cultivated fields?
As a frequent visitor I witnessed several encounters with a sounder of wild boar. There was a matriarch, a patriarch with tushes, several adolescents and about five baby boars. Anyone who has read Jim Corbett or Kenneth Anderson knows that boars are noisy animals and their helter-skelter progress towards our field early morning and at noon was heralded by first shouts of little boys and frantic barking from local dogs followed by screams from women cutting grass and taken up by such menfolk as happened to be around. So, the hullabaloo was deafening and soon one saw the family scampering across the narrow forest path, heads held high, grunting, and snorting as they progressed towards our fields (one of the few without barbed wire fencing at the time). If you were standing on our veranda, you first heard the shouts and screams from villagers mingled with some grunts and snorts; and then around the corner diagonally from across the first field, crossing the forest path, you saw the tightly knit sounder running down to the fields. As many times as I saw them, I noticed that neither the villagers nor their dogs were ever within striking distance of the sounder and an incident I will narrate later will explain the reason why.
On one of my visits the Green House in the early days, I found our fields crisscrossed with green nylon ropes at about the height of a person's ankle. When questioned, Somesh (our neighbour and friend) told me it was to trip wild boars when they came foraging! How efficacious that was I do not know, but I can tell you that in those two weeks the sounder didn’t come anywhere near our fields.
One evening, just as Somesh had delivered a tiffin carrier full of hot dinner and was about to leave, he pointed towards the bulb on the veranda ceiling. "Don't switch off the Suar Batti1 he told me " it should burn all night”. Somesh detests boars like all the villagers, so it is not to light their path that the bulb burns all night. It is to show him when they enter the field should he doze off while watching crops at night. Once awake, he beats tin cans and shouts – other villagers do the same – each household has a person awake and alert – and together they make enough noise to protect their fields from foraging boars. Since they work very hard all day whether at jobs or in the fields, nights without sleep are unlikely to endear villagers to creatures that keep them awake.
There are two incidents – one of which I will relate now – that show how fearful even spectators are of wild boars. A very dignified gentleman (also an old friend) was visiting, and my husband told him that a spectacle would present itself at noon on any given day and he should watch out for it. So that became the designated ‘coffee hour’. After a day of two of watching out for the spectacle, just about the time when our friend was beginning to disbelieve us, the sounder appeared. Watching them from the safety of our veranda, our friend caught the red piggy eyes of the matriarch and beat a hasty retreat indoors, looking quite shaken. My husband handed him a cup of coffee and asked him how he liked the noon show. “Those boars…they look awfully wild”, he said, much to our amusement. I remember thinking that the same reaction would have greeted a tame boar (if there is such a creature) thanks to their ferocious expressions!
I once saw a big wild boar chase a small Pomeranian dog out of the forest. It was almost sundown, and I was returning from a walk along the forest path. From the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of white and a little dog came yapping out of the forest, tail between its legs. Then, out of the dense bushes emerged the snout of a huge boar; with its glistening white tushes it looked really ferocious, and the snarls communicated an unmistakable message – “get out and stay out!” So, I remember thinking, the feeling of hatred is mutual.
A comic reaction
The one time that a boar elicited a funny reaction was from a lady visiting us from France. She got so excited at seeing a boar cross our garden, that her (otherwise fluent) English deserted her. “I just saw a creature”, she shouted. “What creature?” asked my husband “Oh, you know the one that Obelix liked to eat?” she answered. The villagers whose untiring efforts to keep monkeys and boars away from their crops had probably never heard of, let alone read, Asterix comics, but I am sure that they would have appreciated the efforts of Obelix to cull the numbers of marauders by eating those wretched boars!
Man-animal conflicts: a reality!
Human-wildlife conflicts cause severe damages in terms of livestock predation and crop raiding and are among one of the leading ecological issues to date. In Uttarakhand, livestock predation is mainly caused by leopards and tigers; crop raiding by elephants, wild boars, and various ungulates in the Garhwal Himalayas. (D. S Meena, D.P. Baluni et. al., 2021). Conflicts are growing in areas such as Bhauwala where there are a large number of tourists as well as people who are building homes right at the edge of the forest. Small holdings are being sold as more and more people give up agriculture, thus real estate is affordable for city folk wanting to access cleaner air and greenery; Garhwalis2 who lived higher up the mountainsides are settling in Bhauwala because the hillsides are prone to natural disasters like cloudbursts and landslides. So, shrinking forest lands, less rainfall, less greenery, and lack of fodder – are all leading to monkey and boars foraging on cultivated land more often and more fiercely than they normally would. This menace grows when the harvest ripens and succulent fruits like mangoes and guavas are abundant. Up in the trees, the monkeys throw down fruit and down in the fields the wild boars forage maize, corn, potatoes and standing crops. Small wonder that villagers spend much of their time chasing these nuisances!
Over the years, I have seen high surrounding walls come up around properties. Needless to say, that merely means that the boars go on the rampage on to a poorer farmer’s property where neither barbed wire nor walls stop the sounder. Walls, of course, do not deter monkeys. But that is another story.
The Central Government declared wild boar as vermin in Uttarakhand for one year. The Additional Director General of forests (wildlife), declared "wild pig (sus scrofa) listed at serial number 19 of the schedule III of the Act, to be vermin and to be included in schedule V of the Act for a period of one year from the date of issue of this notification, which is February 3 in exercise of the powers conferred by section 62 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.” (Notification on February 3, 2016). Since then, several states across the country, including Uttarakhand3, have also demanded vermin status for wild boars. The debate has been discussed at length in an article that appeared in the Scroll (https://scroll.in/article/1025938/vermin-status-centre-and-states-lock-horns-over-the-killing-of-wild-boars) – the main argument being rampant misuse that might result in indiscriminate killing and upset the balance of forest habitat. Mass culling of the boars would also result in depletion in numbers that would break the food chain within the forests, causing irreparable damages. While memoranda and files fly from desk to desk within the bureaucracy, the people of Bhauwala have to live with sleepless nights and their hatred of wild boars.
Spoils of the hunt – ‘boaring’ memories from Dooars4
In a world that is gradually adopting vegetarianism and vegan diets, what I am about to narrate may not be entirely appropriate, but it is a childhood memory of very happy times spent in Jalpaiguri5 with holidays in the ‘Gorumara Reserve Forest’. My memory dates back to the days when the forest was a game reserve6. Those with a gun licence could hunt snipe, quail, partridge, deer, and wild boars. My eldest maternal uncle was a keen sportsman and whenever he could ‘bag’ a boar the ‘khansama’ (cook) would make a pot roast with caramelized onions and potatoes swimming in gravy. I remember hearing tales around the table about boar as ‘vermin’; and memories of the taste of the roast that was so different to that of the domestic pig (pork roast was a delicacy that one looked forward to in Calcutta) is an integral memory linked to my adolescence. Researchers documenting ‘shikar’ in colonial and the early years, prior to the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 have referred to the hunting of tigers, elephants, and boars by British and then Indian sportspersons. Therefore, my memory stands validated by history, although it is not to be condoned in the face of India’s vanishing wildlife, depredations that began much before India became independent. My readers will forgive me for indulging in a bit of nostalgia and presenting some of my memories of the creatures that denizens of Bhauwala loved to hate.
Boars in Bengali short stories
Bengal has a tradition of fiction that documents and celebrates the rich biodiversity of her forest lands. Authors like Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhay, Sunil Gangopadhay as well as Buddhadeb Guha and Saradindu Bandopadhay are the best known for their depiction of flora and fauna of India. Guha is often referred to as ‘prakriti premik’ (lover of nature) since his protagonist Rijuda often talks to his young companions about the beauty of forests and the hazards of depleting forest resources. All these authors have written about wild boars, as part of the flora and fauna of forests, crossing their paths in the jungle and as part of the food chain. And all of them have described them with a touch of admiration and respect for their ability to hold their own against creatures much larger than themselves.
The story by Buddhadeb Guha titled ‘With Rijuda in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve’, (in Maharashtra): has reference to the open season and closed season for hunting where the central character Rijuda –- a nature-lover and occasional slayer of man-eating tigers, leopards, and rogue elephants –- reminisces about his uncle who was a great but ethical ‘shikari’. Some of his stories have descriptions of ferocious wild boars that could frighten even a tiger! In one such story the protagonist comes across a wild boar that has been disembowelled by a tiger or leopard – the description of which is empathic in nature. My reason for narrating these facts is just to point out the contrast between those who visit forests as opposed to those who live alongside forests and cultivate crops as a livelihood or as food – communities where wild boars are perceived as vermin. Perhaps in the confines of a reserved forest boars can forage in peace and fiercely guard their territory from other animals – it is when they stray into cultivated fields that the conflict escalates. In areas adjacent to human habitation, wild boars are chased away by dogs and humans, “suar batti” on verandas throws a dim light over the fields to warn farmers and almost every day abuses are heaped on the heads of wild boars in communities such as Bhauwala.
Debnath, H.S., Ranjana Saha et. al. Inception Report of the project entitled " Impact of habitat management practices, especially canopy manipulation and grassland restoration, on the habitat use pattern of herbivores And the herbivores-carrying capacity in Jaldapara NP, Gorumara NP and Mahananda WLS”. July 2017 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339326549_INCEPTION_REPORT). Accessed 30 April 2023.
Meena, D. S., D.P. Baluni et. al. Human-wildlife conflict in Uttarakhand: Impact, opportunities, and ground level perspectives with mitigating strategies. Proceedings of the International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 2021, 11(3): 84-102.
Sinha Roy, Kakoli. Ordering the Wild: Shikar, Wildlife and Conservation in Colonial
Bengal (1850 -1947)’ submitted by me for the award of the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in Arts at Jadavpur University. 16.05.2016
Sinha Ray, Kakoli Ordering the Wild: Shikar, Wildlife and Conservation in Colonial Bengal (1850 -1947) Dissertation Submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Arts) At Jadavpur University. Kolkata, India. 2016.
1 Boar-lights: to ward of boars!
2 People from Garhwal Himalayas
3 Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh
4 Duars or Dooars, is a region of Northeastern India, at the foot of the east-central Himalayas.
5 A district in North West Bengal
6 Hunting was allowed in a game reserve and Gorumara was one since 1895. It was declared a sanctuary and named Gorumara National Park in 1994. (Ref. Technical Report, July 2017).
Ms. Vijayluxmi Bose taught at the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, India for 11 years after which she spent almost 23 years in the health sector as a Consultant with the World Health Organization (Southeast Asia Region) and a short stint at UNESCO HQ (Paris). Her writing is a mix of professional publications in public health, and her observations of villages and lives in small towns in around the Dehra Dun valley in Uttarakhand (where she and her husband built a tiny home) in the foothills of the mighty Himalayas (the Dooars region in North West Bengal) where she spent her school holidays. A few of her stories have been inspired by the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Vijayluxmi has lived in Delhi for about 36 years but shifted to Talla Ramgarh in the Nainital district, last year.
She began writing stories after she lost her husband a few years ago and settled for some time in a tiny hamlet called Bhauwala in rural Dehradun district. What began as blogs called “Bhauwala Diaries” on Facebook – have morphed into tales of people and animals written with touches of humour, spookiness, and nostalgia. Some of the Bhauwala blogs were published by the Statesman Festival Edition in 2014 and she hopes that they will be published as a collection sometime in the near future.
has published book reviews apart from her more serious publications
(including one in BMJ Open) and a series of books and monographs on
situation analyses, food practices and women’s narratives in
the Kumaon region. Her fictional works include a story called
‘Possessed’ that has been published in a collection
titled ‘Touched: Madness and Creativity’ edited by Dr.
Sukrita Paul Kumar and Jhilmil Breckenridge; a short story titled
‘The Wanderers and the Screamer’ was published in the
Tell Me Your Story series (June 2022). A short story called ‘Not
a Story’ was published online