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One night with the hunters in a forest

Somewhere in a forest in Mokokchung district

The teenage hunter carried the dead wild cat called “Shou” in local dialect. It was a pride for him and he carried it in full view of others just like an Olympian displaying his medal after winning a marathon race. The cat would be immersed in hot water and the fur ripped off; it will be cut into pieces and then dinner. It’s an interesting way of life, and so this The Morung Express reporter thought why not forget about conservation and wildlife, and spend a night with these experienced hunters in the jungles and get to know their way of life.
The preferred gun is the single-shot 12 Bore shotgun popularly called “Kartoosh”, canvass hunting boots is a must, cotton pants and a jacket. A jungle knife with a sheath, a bag containing some Paan or tamul, torchlight, cartridges and all the provisions are carried in a rucksack. The four mile downhill steps aren’t that hard at all. Down below in the valley lays the golden paddy-fields ready for harvest. The two young hunters (who wished not to be named, not because of fear of being caught but rather out of shyness – the village council have not banned hunting in their village) said that the field will be harvested by the end of November.
Once in the valley, it was time to go and wait for the birds to go to their roosting place for the night. The younger hunter led to a thick jungle, full of bamboo and undergrowth, and his hand gestured to remain quiet. Suddenly, a group of jungle fowl came up crackling and moved among the small bamboo groove. The young hunter locked the trigger with an audible click, raised the barrel, and “Boom”. One bird fell down dead and the others scrambled away in panic as the gunshot reverberated among the hills. It was getting late, and time to move on. The young hunter said that he knows a tree bearing wild fruit which is often visited by a jungle cat. The tree was huge, and we cleared a small patch of ground and sat there.
The wait was long, mobile phones were switched off and there was no talking. After about one and half hour, there was a rustle among the leaves. The hunter held the torch along with the barrel and moved the light beam. Suddenly two pair of eyes glowed as the cat’s eyes reflected the torchlight. The cat dazed by the torchlight sat still. Then there was the boom again. Hard luck, the cat scrambled away. Time to move back to the rest house in the paddy field, for the cat would not visit the tree for some time.
Dinner was basic. Boiled rice and a dish of the wild cat shot earlier, and some chili chutney. It was tasty nonetheless. A bamboo jug filled with water and tea leaves was put upright in the fire, for a cup of strong black tea after dinner. And it was time to sleep. The bed was cushioned with haystack with a bed sheet over it; the fire was kept burning and an old blanket kept the hunters warm. Maybe it was the sweet smell of the haystack, or the warm crackling, or the sound of the rushing river nearby, or sheer tiredness; everyone was asleep within minutes.
The thick envelop of fog the next morning gave the impression of a gloomy weather, but by 10 O’clock, the fog cleared and a warm sunny day lied ahead. One hunter remained at the rest house while the other went out for another hunt, this time for birds only. This time I was more interested in talking about hunting, then in shooting.  The talk of the hunters is very interesting. The figure of speech they use while describing a kill, the simple lifestyles, and the small talks about birds and animals – about their encounters with wild animals, how they nearly missed the shot or killed it, makes one to almost forget about conservation of wild animals.
The young hunter talked in a friendly manner; he disclosed that he has shot around four wild cats, one deer, a mountain goat and innumerable birds – big and small, in his life. The month of November till December, he said, is the best time to hunt when the animals are all “fats” and the meat tastes the best. It is the harvest time, and most of the farmers stay back at the fields since it is too tiring to move up and down from the village to the fields. “By next week, the forest will be beaming with torch lights, as farmers harvest the field by day and hunt during the night,” said my companion.
When queried about the population of wild animals in the jungle. The young hunter confidently said that the animals would not vanish in the jungle because the villagers do not hunt during the breeding season – the months from March to May. “It is a curse to shoot animals carrying their babies,” he said. Interesting. Besides, he also disclosed that villagers hunt during the winter season, because it is the harvesting season, and a lot of meat is needed for the tiring work of harvesting. Interestingly, he disclosed that the meat during the breeding season is not tasty and have a foul smell. Besides, after the harvest, the villagers would be too busy with the daily chores in the village like preparing for Christmas and weddings etc. Wednesday and Saturday nights are not hunting nights because on these nights there is Church service, and hunting on Sunday is a ‘sin’. And hunters whose spouses are pregnant are not supposed to hunt because there is a belief that their babies will be born with deformities.
“It is only those hunters who have a raakhi (a compulsive urge for hunting) go out for a hunt, but hunting mostly depend on blessing, sometimes you are blessed sometimes you are not,” the young hunter said. He said he is a student of class ten who is very much interested in football. The morning hunt was not a ‘blessed one’ and we returned back to the rest house. His companion had already prepared lunch, we devoured the whole food. After a short rest, and a quick bath in the icy water in the river, it was time to head back home and a long walk on the uphill road.

Contemplative thought on Conservation
As exciting as it may sound, hunting remains one key issue when it comes to conservation of wildlife in the state. However, despite the best efforts of the concerned state government or even the village council, Nagas who were hunters before would surely have a deep love for hunting. A talk on the social networking sites on conservation had responses from intellectuals suggesting timing for hunting season and a ban during the breeding season, since hunting cannot be entirely banned despite the best efforts. The poaching menace inside well-guarded reserve parks is enough proof that those who want to kill animals will surely hunt animals either for fun or for money. However, in Nagaland, perhaps harnessing the traditional knowledge of the villagers, the myths and superstition related with hunting by the state government would go a long way in curbing the practice of hunting to some extent. A proper education to the village council on not to shoot animals during the breeding season, would also ensure the population of wildlife in the jungle remains constant.
Perhaps it would be good if the government can allot a hunting season, where town-dwellers would go back to the rural areas and spend a night with the hunters and learn the traditional way of life and enjoy a break from the hectic life in the towns. After all, if a reporter who is more interested in pens than guns, can learn so much about the behavior of animals and the rural way of life, then surely, those who are interested in conservation (or those biology students) surely would learn more – about animals and maybe make a proper analytical research for posterity to come.

*Harnessing traditional knowledge in hunting would go a long way in curbing the practice of hunting in Nagaland