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Tamilnadu News

Much education needed to resolve man-animal conflict

Archana Rohit


Forest dwellers since the age of early hominoids have coexisted with wildlife in harmony. But expansion of human activities made their way into wildlife habitats and large-scale environmental changes have resulted in human wildlife conflict. The numbers of such incidents are in an astounding progression.

As many as 1,608 people were killed in such conflicts involving tigers, leopards, bears and elephants between 2013 and 2017, according to the data from Union Environment Ministry. These conflicts do not include issues such as crop raids by monkeys, wild boars and nilgai. The recorded data is of on the basis of cases filed for compensation. The compensation schemes are skewed and vulnerable to corruption as they lack transparency.

Over 5,000 households across 11 wildlife reserves in India were surveyed between 2011-14 and 72 per cent reported conflict with wildlife. Nearly an equal number reported crop losses and 17 per cent mentioned about livestock losses despite the use of at least 12 kinds of mitigation measures, like fencing, sounds to scare off animals and guarding fields at night. The highest reported conflict cases (84 per cent) came from the Kanha forests in central India. According to WWF, India, Kerela, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttarakhand report the highest number of human wildlife conflict cases.

Coimbatore Forest Division revealed that six ranges were affected by elephant crop raids. Crop raiding attempts are highest in Boluvampatti Range and lowest in Sirmugai Range. Banana, sorgum, arecanut and coconut plants were the most raided crops by elephants. There were 96 human casualties caused by elephants in the past 16 years.

Former forest officer Badhra Samy says, “Animals used to rely on fodder from the forest before as farmers were into dry farming of grains and millets. Slowly because of the deep borewell culture,they have extended their agriculture close to the boundaries of forests. They now plant high yielding crops like sugarcane, bananas and coconut. Being juicy and flavoursome, they attract animals, especially elephants.”

In the Nilgiris, wild boars, bears, tigers and leopards are also a major problem. There is no biodiversity and grassland in the upper plateau of the Nilgiris and hence these animals during hunt for food harm humans. Indian bison has become a domestic animal. People have started taking care of it and these animals are not scared of humans anymore, says V Sivadass, managing trustee of Nilgiri Environment and Culture Service Trust.

Most ecologists and conservationists argue that the word “conflict” is troublesome as it too broad, fuels hostility towards animals, is misleading and human-centric, undermining conservation efforts. We always take it at face value that in a human wildlife conflict, we humans are at the receiving end.

There are several instances which prove that humans have been quick to blame and punish the animal which has no knowledge of the concept of the boundary or jurisdiction. “We don’t give animals equal recognition as victims of violence caused by the atrocities caused by humans. The human wildlife conflict is silently killing animals,” says Sivadass.

In Uttar Pradesh, a six-year-old tigress, blamed for claiming 13 human lives, was beaten to death by angry mobs. In Odissa, a female elephant under the pretext of “revenge killing” was electrocuted in Rourekela forest division for damaging crops in the area.

“People, including farmers, are concerned about their livelihood. Animals are at their least priority. They are seen as intruders and we resort to such measures. We cannot educate the animals. However, we can educate people. There are a lot of awareness programmes carried out to create the balance of ecosystem as without animals, humans cannot survive,” says Samy

The government needs to intervene as the current approach of dealing with the conflict is ad hoc, and predisposed to failure because of lack of involvement of various agencies, ineffective application of methods, lack of conflict mitigation measures and most importantly inadequate knowledge and awareness about the topic, say ecologists. There is a dire need to incorporate different approaches and strategies to holistically and permanently alleviate conflicts.

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