A ‘judicial’ hunger for death?

By Dr. Mass R. Usuf
It appears everything has a season. Now apparently is the time where the hangman's noose is concerned. Diverse views are expressed, when there should be no divergence at all - for, a decision born out of divergence inherently lacks the very truth about a thing that should hold fast for all times and remain immutable.

The day before yesterday the noose prevailed, yesterday it was locked up and today certain quarters are trying to lay it on someone's neck. This is the transient nature of a decision that blossoms forth from a vacillating base of diverse opinions, only to wither and to blossom again some decades later. And the crime rate, never dips!

If we must look for the truth that should hold fast over time, how are we to go about the debates and discussions? Indulge in neither debate nor discussion - evaluate various aspects of the case using wisdom governing natural verities as the guide, instead of using personal and subjective emotions as spearheads.

In the animal world, a lizard eats an insect, a snake eats the lizard and a monitor eats the snake. Death here becomes the negation of life by one, to satiate the hunger of another. Death is not inflicted through remorse nor revenge but by the basic natural verity of 'hunger'. It is, by nature, meant to be!

The question then is; to snuff out a human life judicially - is it, by nature, meant to be? Is it humane to bring about a 'judicial hunger', one driven by a judicial tit for tat - life for life? It is not possible if due respect is paid to the natural verity of protection of life, above all human life. Consign a murderer to life imprisonment but not to the gallows. The 'hunger' should have an affinity with protection, not with death, even that of a murderer.

Judicial tit for tat propelled by a judicial hunger for death has never reduced rates of homicide. The social history of the world shows it never has anywhere. In Saudi Arabia, 120 persons were ruthlessly decapitated in 2001. Nevertheless the crime rate is soaring despite this extreme punitive measure.

Is it going to be any different in Sri Lanka? To think so is to delude oneself and is a reflection of a poor understanding of social behaviour.

Judicial tit for tat that does not rope in the very life of an individual is somewhat humane and we humans must maintain a humane society. A murderer snuffs out a life. It is wrong. But for another, be he empowered by a court of law or otherwise, to snuff out the life of the murderer is also wrong. Two wrongs never make a right. It would be right to put him behind bars for fifty years or for life with no parole, as he poses a threat to the innocents.

The Buddha has spoken about the sanctity of life. Such knowledge stems from wisdom governing natural verities. Buddhism is replete with instances where life is held sacred, even that of wrongdoers. Many scriptures teach us to see God in man even if he is a sinner, for, in man resides God!

If this truly is a Buddhist country then let maithree and karuna prevail. Let a murderer rue in prison but let him not be murdered by the dictates of some man-made thing called The Law.

For most hard-core criminals, a quick death is preferable to rotting in prison. They play with life and death and death is an easy way out should they lose. Otherwise, why should drug peddlers continue to peddle drugs in Saudi Arabia despite weekly, public decapitations for drug peddling?

So what is to stop the contract killers and the army deserters from indulging in crime? Certainly not the hangman's noose! This is one aspect of warped social behaviour, which defies the threat of the noose. As long as this defiance prevails so shall crime.

Crime, like someone said, is a symptom. It can be ascribed to a warped social development prodded by warped social values. To think that crime can be totally eliminated is absurd. Good and bad thrive in a symbiotic relationship. Both must prevail. There can never be a crimeless society or one ridden with crime in toto. Nothing can be absolute. A balance always prevails. By nature it is meant to be.

Periodically, this balance tips the way of crime and the crime rate increases. It happens when as mentioned above there is an increase in warped social development prodded by warped social values. Correct the warp on a social scale and the crime rate would dip - the call for the hangman's noose would then be not so resonant.

Moreover, there have been many instances where an innocent man was executed for no wrong done but owing to the vagaries of legal interpretations and subjective views of members of the jury who are not all learned persons and lacking wisdom, perception and understanding.

Society as a whole would become culpable for the murder of an innocent. When a hundred persons are to be hanged who can ever say there would never be an innocent among them? Let him who says it pull the lever first. One innocent life cannot be equated with any quantity of those guilty. On this basis alone the vehement calls for the noose should peter out.

Wildlife: In war and peace

By Charles Santiapillai and S. Wijeyamohan
War can be a mixed blessing to local wildlife and its habitat. It can have both beneficial as well as detrimental impacts on the environment.

The positive impact of war on the environment is due to the fact that it tends to keep people, including poachers, out of conflict areas. This is attested by the spectacular bird diversity and numbers recorded today from the Giant's Tank in the Wanni region, from where large numbers of people fled during the war.

But this is an exception rather than the rule, for in most instances, war tends to do damage to wildlife and its habitat. Sri Lanka is no exception: government troops and guerrillas have hunted wildlife for food. Their impact would have been most severe on large mammals with slow reproductive rates, as these are the ones that are likely to disappear first. In addition, land mines have also either killed or maimed an unknown number of large mammals.

After an interval of 18 years, one of Sri Lanka's oldest and most scenic conservation areas, the Wilpattu National Park, was re-opened on March 16, 2003. Although the park still retains its charm, the ravages of the two-decade long armed conflict can be seen from the destruction caused to its forest and wildlife.

Habitat destruction and the accompanying loss of wildlife are among the most common legacies of any armed conflict.

The free availability of guns during the war and the use of wire snares appear to have had a serious impact on wildlife. Spotted deer used to be the most numerically abundant large herbivore in Wilpattu National Park. Today, its numbers have declined.

Wilpattu is not an isolated case. Other protected areas are also in danger of becoming 'empty forests', if illegal timber extraction and poaching continue unabated. Uncontrolled hunting of wildlife not only reduces the populations of the target species, but more importantly, it will cause landscape-level changes in habitats and faunal assemblages.

Protected areas in Sri Lanka face the twin threats of habitat loss and poaching. As commercial hunting is unsustainable, it is a far more serious threat to wildlife than subsistence hunting carried out by poor people living along the edges of conservation areas. Their impact on wildlife is not as serious as that of the commercial hunters or organized gangs of poachers.

Their exploitation of bush meat is sustainable at present only because they do not possess the ability to cause serious environmental degradation. However, the key element in bush meat trade becoming unsustainable is demand, not technology. Thus, unless it is regulated, even subsistence hunting for bush meat can become a conservation problem, especially if the number of people who practise it increases.

Subsistence hunting for edible wildlife is common in areas where refugees have been resettled. In the Wanni, where hunting has always been a part of the local culture, villagers hunt animals such as the jungle fowl, land monitor lizard, black-naped hare, spotted deer, sambhur, barking deer, mouse deer and wild boar.

Prices per kilo of bush meat in the Wanni are as follows: wild boar Rs. 40, spotted deer and sambhur Rs. 70, jungle fowl Rs. 70. In comparison, a kilo of chicken costs between Rs. 200-250, mutton Rs. 60, while prices of fish range from Rs. 40-100 depending on the species. Jungle fowl is in fact much cheaper than her country cousin. The land monitor lizard is such a delicacy among the people of the Wanni that it is no longer common outside protected areas.

Almost all the refugees who are resettled in the Wanni region suffer from either chronic or seasonal under-nutrition. Poor diet influences mental development. The effect of shortage of dietary calories is more serious in young children under five years of age and in pregnant and lactating women.

When faced with a lack of calories, the body breaks down amino acids for energy instead of using them to make new proteins. In comparison to vegetable proteins, animal proteins are usually richer in amino acids, mineral salts, trace elements and vitamins essential for growth. What is needed is a mixture of plant and animal protein to ensure good health.

Therefore, for the poor who eke out an existence, bush meat is not a luxury but an essential source of much needed animal protein. It is also a commodity that can be sold. The ultimate effect of a continuous shortage of dietary calories is to slow down most human activities, with the apparent exception of the rate of reproduction.

Even though modern urban human communities cannot be sustained by the harvesting of wild animals, it would be both difficult and unfair to ban the trade in bush meat completely, especially if people living in poverty depend on it for food and income. Hunting bush meat has become economically important even in areas where the main source of income is agriculture. Thus there is a need to regulate and manage the harvesting of bush meat so that it can be made sustainable. Wild species are a renewable resource, and hence harvesting them is perhaps the only sustainable resource-use of consequence.

Controlled utilization of non-endangered wildlife can be achieved through game ranching, so that they can be profitably cropped for human consumption. It is a common misconception among many that forests in tropical countries are the epitome of fertility and that all that is required for the production of fine crops is the introduction of modern machinery and mass production methods. It is true that there are limited areas of high fertility, especially in the river valleys, but much of the Wanni, especially the Mannar region is very arid. It is one of the driest regions in Sri Lanka. The clay soil becomes rock-hard during the drought season, making it extremely impervious to water.

Nomadism is a rational response to such seasonal variations in grazing and surface water. On such arid areas, game ranching would be a much sounder proposition than agriculture. Once game ranching becomes commercially established, the extinction of the wild fauna will be unlikely. Under natural conditions, wild herbivorous animals are in perfect balance with the plants on which they feed. This has been established long enough for the animals to become adjusted to their environment, making use of all the food resources. The biomass of this wild fauna can be large if predators are kept in check. Harvesting such non-endangered herbivorous wild fauna in marginal habitats offers a way of preventing the depletion of wildlife within protected areas. As Sir Julian Huxley once remarked, "wild protein can yield more profit than cattle or cultivation".

While the viewing of wildlife in national parks has been a well-established and accepted form of non-consumptive exploitation, the consumptive use of non-endangered wildlife even outside protected areas is a thorny issue that is bound to arouse controversy in such a predominantly Buddhist country as Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the problem with wildlife is that the people who wish to preserve it are rarely those who have to pay the cost. While the relatively affluent foreign tourists and local visitors enjoy a wildlife spectacle at minimal expense, the poor who share their land with wildlife remain destitute.

The task of promoting game ranching is formidable, and would require a change of attitude from a large section of the population. It usually takes a generation to change people's minds. Furthermore, in the absence of minerals to exploit, the prosperity of the refugees who live on marginal lands must depend on the careful exploitation of their forests, fisheries, wildlife and the few patches of agricultural soils.

IUCN's World Conservation Strategy supports such exploitation of wildlife, provided it is sustainable and that the income so generated increases support for conservation. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, conservation funds from international donor agencies have failed to cater to the needs of these people. Much could be achieved even if a tiny fraction of these funds could be spent on improving the education, healthcare and welfare of the children who live close to protected areas.

For wildlife to survive on a significant scale outside protected areas the needs of wildlife should be reconciled with the legitimate aspirations of the local communities. Game ranching of non-endangered edible wildlife that is both abundant and capable of replacing itself quickly, is sustainable and economically viable in many parts of rural Sri Lanka.

Wildlife conservation must take into account not only ecology but economics as well. Placing an economic value on wildlife will promote its conservation. In the absence of economic incentives, no amount of legislation can save wildlife outside the protected areas. As Norman Myers points out, "conservation in the developing countries has to sustain not only the spirit but also the stomachs".

Charles Santiapillai is attached to the University of Peradeniya and S. Wijeyamohan to the Vavuniya Campus of the University of Jaffna

Fish have feelings too

By Dr. D. P. Atukorale
In a recent newspaper article, a female doctor mentioned that fish don't feel pain. This is not quite true. Like human beings, all animals including mammals, reptiles, birds and fish feel pain. Even though fish don't scream when they are in pain, their behaviour should be evidence enough of their suffering when they are hooked or netted. They struggle to escape and by so doing demonstrate they have a will to survive.

It has been shown that fish have a highly developed system that may protect them from severe pain following some injury to their bodies such as might be inflicted by a large predator. This system releases natural opiate-like substances (encephalins and endorphins) once an animal is injured. The presence of the pain-dampening opiate system implies that there must be some capacity to experience pain; otherwise there would be little point in animals having evolved such a system in the first place.

There may still be some who will argue that we cannot prove beyond question that any vertebrate other than man feels pain. We however, conclude that if any do, then the evidence suggests that all vertebrates through the mediation of similar neuro-pharmacological processes, experience similar sensations to a greater or lesser degree in response to noxious stimuli.

The apparent universality throughout vertebrates of the neuro-pharmacological basis for the perception of painful (and pleasurable) stimuli does not permit us to agree with those who would recognize a difference in this function between warm-blooded and cold-blooded members.

A hook causes tissue damage when it catches and thus in medical terms, inflicts injury. The conditions of competitive fishing (specimen hunting) frequently demand that fish be retained for a prolonged period (in water) in a keep-net, and also examined, weighed and perhaps photographed (in air) before ultimately being liberated. All such procedures increase the likelihood of injury to the fish.

The tissues of fish, when it is removed from the water, are subjected in air to pressures greatly reduced and differing in nature from those in water. Consequently there are greatly altered changes in the various peripheral systems affecting lymphatic and venous blood pressure and respiration. Bleeding tends to occur from the gills and instead of dispersing, the blood coagulates and reduces the effective respiratory surface.

More significant are the effects of desiccation and particularly of handling on the skin and gills. The outer surface of the fish does not consist of scales, as is commonly believed. Scales are located within the dermis (middle layer of skin). Superficial to them is the epidermis with its mucus layer. The epidermis is a very delicate transparent tissue, which provides the water proofing i.e. an essential part of the physiological control of fluid balance between the fish and the environment. It is also the barrier between the fish and a wide variety of disease producing micro-organisms found in water. Handling of fish, in a landing net or by hand, to remove hooks, will almost certainly involve damage to this delicate layer. Severe trauma is caused by holding a fish tightly in a dry cloth, which will remove the epidermis from considerable areas of the body.

When fish are severely stressed and exercised to exhaustion, they make extensive use of their 'white muscle system'. A completely exhausted fish will be unable to move for several hours after capture. During this time it will be at risk to attack by predators or injury from its inanimate environment.

1. Fox, Michael D.V.M. PhD "Do Fish Have Feelings" The Animal's Agenda, July/August, 1987, pp 24-29.

2. Lord Medway et al, Report of the Panel of Enquiry Into Shooting and Angling." Sponsored by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 1979.


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