The photographs of pellet wounds on people in Kashmir have been all over the papers and many of them have had to be hospitalised. No one can die – or so we are told – of a pellet wound, so these have been used liberally during riots. According to the newspapers, the pellet guns used in Kashmir are said to be the ones used normally to shoot partridge and quail.
Thirty years ago, when birds and squirrels started coming to my hospital with pellet wounds on them, I started looking into the phenomenon. We could save barely 10 per cent of these wounded, suffering small creatures. Most of them were unconscious when they came to us and gangrene had spread from the wounds.
They had been hit for fun, by children whose parents had been wicked enough to buy them airguns as toys. Pellet guns are not toys. They are real guns that use pellets, instead of bullets, but the harm they inflict is almost the same. No child will use an airgun on a drawing room vase or a stone. They are always used on living beings. Either the child will fire upon poor people, as they pass by his house, and then hide. Or they are used on small animals and birds. No one fires on their pet dog. They are exclusively reserved for defenceless urban creatures that have no one to help them. Sparrows, crows, kites, parakeets, squirrels, monkeys and feral cats.
Every now and then someone picks up a little creature that had finally collapsed on the ground with pain and infection, and brings it to us. Few birds can survive fractured bones. In cats, the pellet often gets stuck in a bone and is difficult to remove. Or the pellet tears through the intestines and internal blood loss kills after days of suffering. Or it hits the head, sending the animal into a coma.
In England, attacks on animals take place mainly in summer when children have holidays and little to do. In the summer of 2011, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals tended to 567 complaints of airgun incidents. This doubled in the summer of 2012. Cats were the most frequent victims of airgun attacks, but dogs, birds and wildlife are victims too. The RSPCA believes many cases go unreported, or some owners may never know what has happened to their pets, as injured animals usually look for a quiet sheltered area to die. Therefore, these incidents may only be the tip of the iceberg.
Over the years the severity of injuries, inflicted by airguns, has increased dramatically. Modern airguns have immense power and the pellets are not embedded in the skin but pass through the body, smashing bones to smithereens. Airgun injuries are becoming increasingly more difficult for vets to treat. Almost half of all animals shot by airgun snipers die from their wounds, compared to 11 per cent in the 1990s. Broken legs lead to amputation, paralysis when the pellet narrowly misses the spine. Animals too old to have the pellets removed limp along till they die
Recently, an orangutan on a palm oil plantation in Borneo was found after being shot with 40 air-rifle pellets. The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation in Nyaru Menteng received the adult female in critical condition, with X-rays showing “10 pellets in the head, eight pellets in the left leg and pelvis, 18 pellets in the right leg and pelvis, as well as six pellets in the chest and right hand”. She had maggots crawling in her open wounds, and she suffered from malnutrition. Experts estimate that her wounds were just three days old. In spite of surgery, she died.
A new law came in 2012, in Great Britain, to stop under-18s from accessing airguns by fining owners up to £1,000 if they allowed their children to use their guns. This brought the abuse down by half, but now 86 per cent of vets are demanding a change in the law to restrict the sale and use of air weapons, which can be bought without any form of licence. Scotland has made it illegal to own an airgun without a permit and campaigners are asking for England and Wales to follow. According to the law in the USA, using airguns on animals is considered a felony. Air-powered weapons, such as pellet guns, are not allowed to be used within city limits.
When our government formed, the Union home ministry started an exercise to reform the Arms Rules. A great deal of evidence was given to them to put controls on airguns. The airgun industry and Rifle Association, headed by ex-maharajahs and known poachers, lobbied hugely — even against me — to not put any controls on airguns as this was a “sport”. However, I am happy to say that the Rules, tabled in Parliament in August, are very clear:
Section 84 says that the manufacture and sale of air weapons, including paintball markers or guns, irrespective of the muzzle energy, calibre or bore, shall be subject to licencing — whether for manufacture, proof test, transfer, sale or keeping. The keeping, sale and transfer can only be done through authorised arms dealers. Anyone buying them has to give identification and proof of residence. The seller/dealer has to keep a stock register and names/addresses of all the people he has sold them to, along with their details.
No toyshops, no sale to young people and a register of all those who have bought a gun, so that, if any more incidents on animals take place, there exist registers to track down people in the area. Finally, we have matured into understanding the massive killing done by these “toys” and the fact that these children and their mad parents are probably a danger to humans as well.
If you know of any shops selling airguns of any kind, let me know.
To join the animal welfare movement contact [email protected], www.peopleforanimalsindia.org