As defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) , the conflict between human and wildlife refers to ” any interaction between humans and wildlife that results in negative impacts of human social, economic or cultural life, on the conservation of wildlife populations, or on the environment.”
Human-animal conflict is one of the most serious threats to India’s wildlife. Man-animal conflict directly threatens individual species and their habitats as well as exacerbates other factors such as illegal trade in wildlife. It is imperative to place instances of man-animal conflict within a wider context of habitat destruction, population growth, poverty, and a largely unresponsive legal/administrative climate.
This type of conflict, in whatever form and intensity it happens, threatens not only the lives of individual species but also the survival of the entire wildlife populace in India. The issue of conflict between human and wildlife populations are more often, politicized, which in turn evokes heated responses which are more often instinctive rather than thoughtful.
It is interesting to note, however, that this type of conflict is not at all a new phenomenon. There is enough historical evidence to show that people and wildlife have coexisted from time immemorial. However, in recent times the exponential increase in such conflicts has been a cause of concern to not only India but also to other countries of the world.
Consequences of the Conflict
Human-wildlife conflicts in India affect not just the wild-life population in India but also pose a threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of the human community as well especially to those human communities that are located near to the wildlife habitat.
Instances of cattle lifting, man-eating, livestock depredation, human injury etc. caused by the attack of carnivores like tigers, leopards, wolf etc., routinely make news now and then. Also instances of crop-raiding by herbivores like elephants, wild cattle, wild boars etc. are rampant across the country, severely impacting the livelihoods of the farmers.
Other less common but observed damages caused by the human-wildlife conflicts to the human community includes injury by reptile attacks, damage to aircraft due to collision with flying birds etc. It is the wildlife, however, that suffers maximum casualties on account of the human-wildlife conflict issues.
It has been observed that the conflict between human and wildlife creates antagonistic feelings amongst the humans regarding wildlife. This in turn leads to instances retaliatory killings of wild animals, engagement in illegal trade of wildlife, poaching etc. Factors such as poverty, population growth etc. also exacerbates these activities.
The recent instance of death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala due to consumption of a fruit stuffed with firecrackers has garnered a lot of attention from the media and evoked widespread criticism across the country from wildlife conservationists and netizens. But if we view this incident in the backdrop of the larger issue of man-animal conflict, this incident no longer appears to be an isolated incident but one of the many instances where conflicts between human and wildlife have caused irreparable damage to the wildlife community of India.
Death of wild animals by, collisions with moving trains, runover by road vehicles are also very common and frequent. Surveys have shown that between 1987 to 2018 about 249 elephants have been killed on railway tracks due to collision with moving trains.
Poaching has emerged as one of the biggest threats to the survival of the wildlife population. The population of wild carnivores in India, especially the tigers has dwindled chiefly on account of large-scale poaching and illegal trade along with a host of other factors like electrocution, habitat loss, seizure etc.
Reasons Behind Rising Instances of Man-Animal Conflict
Research suggests that one of the main factors behind the human-wildlife conflict in India is the increasing interaction between human and wildlife population. This, in turn, has happened due to a host of factors like the reduction of the “size and quality” of the habitats available for the wildlife population on account of anthropogenic factors like encroachments, deforestation, denotification of Protected Areas (PA), easier availability of palatable food outside PA, behavioral factors etc.
Other factors causing increasing human-wildlife interactions include large scale poverty in India, large scale growth of human population, inconsistencies in distribution of monetary or other compensations to farmers by the state governments, in case of losses to crops or livestock on account attacks by wild animals etc.
Government Initiatives to Protect Wildlife Population from the Negative Impacts of Man-Animal Conflict
India is home to many large wildlife species. It currently has the largest population of tigers, Asian elephant, leopards etc. Despite having large scale man-animal conflict issues for many years, our country has retained most of its large wildlife species. This had been largely due to our inherent culture of friendly coexistence with the animal community and sincere efforts on the part of the government (the central as well as the state governments) to conserve wildlife population through a host of initiatives establishments of Protected Areas, adopting strict legislation against poaching and illegal trade of animals etc.
Some notable government initiatives include the declaration of elephant as a “National Heritage Animal“, based on the recommendations of the Elephant Task Force, set up in 2010, Project Elephant, Project Tiger, Indian One Horn Rhino Vision 2020 etc.
Challenges in Addressing Human-Wildlife Conflict
There are various challenges in addressing Human-Wildlife conflict in India. The principal reason why complete mitigation of this conflict is extremely difficult is the complexity of the causal factors of these conflicts, which often has several dimensions attached to it like cultural, political, economic etc. Since these dimensions and their interrelations are not, very often, well understood, the task of mitigation becomes increasingly more challenging.
Species recovery initiatives also have their inherent challenges. One of them is to provide adequate habitat space for the growing number of wildlife species. In the backdrop of the ever-growing human population of India, one can easily understand the profoundness of this challenge.
Another grave challenge is the prevention of retaliation against wildlife by the human population. Although we do have legislation to protect and conserve wildlife in the form of Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) the penalties codified in the original Act passed in 1972 and its subsequent amendments have proved to be insufficient to prevent atrocities committed against wildlife.
Conclusion and Way Forward
Considering the threat that Human-Wildlife Conflicts pose to human as well as wildlife communities it is extremely important that adequate emphasis is given on providing foolproof protection to the wildlife habitats in our country and at the same time prevent wild-animals from crossing over into human-populated areas.
For this to happen more and more surveys need to be done so that enough data is available in a compiled form about conflict situations, causal factors behind the conflict. A long term policy framework needs to be formulated to mitigate the conflicts based on the data collected from different surveys and for this, a coalition, consisting of central and state government agencies, local stakeholders, NGOs, research organizations and local communities, needs to be formed at the earnest to provide valuable inputs. Cooperative federalism of this sort will help in creating an effective conflict mitigation protocol.
Large scale mass awareness programmes regarding the importance of conservation of wildlife need to be launched to educate the people regarding the dangers that are posed to the wildlife population by retaliatory killings, poaching, illegal wildlife trade etc. Implementing more and more ecotourism initiatives can prove to be highly effective in preventing poaching and at the same time generate revenue for the government and creation of jobs for the local communities.
In case of crop and livestock losses due to attacks by wild animals just and fair compensations must be provided to the farmer by the state governments. Appropriate infrastructural modifications like creation of more and more wildlife corridors will minimize the threat of inbreeding. Innovative initiatives like agroforestry, use of green fences, multi-cropping etc. will go a long way in preventing crop raids, livestock feeding by wild animals. Last but not the least, we the citizens of India, need to practice more tolerance and compassion for our wild neighbours as is envisaged in Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution of India.