Odisha has 70% of the total elephant population in eastern India, is witnessing frequent human-elephant conflicts with 423 elephants perishing since 2011-12 and 421 humans deaths reported during the same period.
- To protect elephant habitats, the Odisha government had identified 14 corridors.
Let us learn the background of the Human-Wildlife Conflicts in India.
- In India, man-animal conflict is seen across the country in a variety of forms, including monkey menace in the urban areas, crop raiding by ungulates and wild pigs, depredation by elephants, and cattle and human killing by tigers and leopards.
- Animals like elephant, tiger, leopard, wild dog, monkey, wild boar; Nilgai, bear, sambar deer etc. are major animals involved in human-animal conflict in India.
- Damage to agricultural crops and property, killing of livestock and human beings are some of the worst forms of man-animal conflict.
- The Government is giving highest priority to mitigate the problem.
- It supplements the financial resources available with the States/ Union Territory Governments for the purpose by providing limited funds under the Centrally Sponsored Schemes of ‘Project Tiger’, ‘Project Elephant’ and ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’.
- Payment of ex-gratia to the victims of wild animals is the responsibility of the concerned State/ Union Territory Governments.
Reasons for the Man-Animal Conflicts
- The increase in man-animal conflict is likely due to the greater resilience and adaptability of wild animals in face of their shrinking habitats, which allow them to live successfully close to human habitation.
- Degradation of habitats, depletion of the natural prey base, changing crop patterns, suitability of man modified habitats to wild animals, presence of stray dogs and cattle in forest fringe areas etc., are other reasons.
Steps taken by the Government
- Awareness programmes to sensitize the people about the Do’s and Don’ts to minimize conflicts.
- Providing assistance to the State Governments for eco-development activities in villages around Protected Areas to elicit cooperation of local community in management of the Protected Areas
- Supplementing State Government resources for payment of ex-gratia to the people for injuries and loss of life in case of wild animal attacks.
Capacity Building of Forest Personnel
- Training programmes for forest staff and police to address the problems of human-wildlife conflicts.
- Technical and financial support for development of necessary infrastructure and support facilities for immobilization of problematic animals through tranquilization, their translocation to the rescue centres or release back to the natural habitats.
- Construction of boundary walls and solar fences around the sensitive areas to prevent the wild animal attacks.
Use of Technology
- Radio collars with Very High Frequency, Global Positioning System and Satellite uplink facilities, are being used by the research institutions including Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, State Forest Departments and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to monitor the movement of Lions, Tigers, Elephants, Olive Ridley Turtles, and other wild animals to understand their movements and their use pattern of the habitat.
Use of Protected Areas
- There are 661 Protected Areas in the country covering around 4.8% geographical areas. There are 100 National Parks, 514 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 43 Conservation Reserves and 4 Community Reserves in the country.
- Corridors are being planned in different parts of the country.
Declaring Vermins and allowing hunting of animals
- Section 62 of the wildlife Act empowers the Centre to declare any wild animal, apart from rare and endangered species, to be classified as vermins, for a specified period of time.
- Section 11(1)(b) of the wildlife Act empowers the chief wildlife warden or authorised officers to permit hunting of an animal or a group of animals specified in Schedule II, III and IV in a specified area if it has become dangerous to human life or property or is disabled or diseased beyond recovery.
- The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is planning to allow the legitimate hunting of wild animals such as blue bulls (nilgai) and wild boars to tackle man-animal conflict.
Criticism of the measures taken by the Government
- The Protected Areas space is not enough to have a full-fledged habitat for wild animals. A territorial animal like a male tiger needs an area of 60-100 sq km. But the area allocated to an entire tiger reserve, like the Bor Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, is 138.12 sq. km. This is barely enough for one or two tigers.
- The elephants need to travel at least 10-20 km a day. If a herd is restricted to an area of about 100 sq. km, they are bound to move out in search of food and water. Elephants are used to travelling long distances, most of which fall outside the protected areas.
- The condition of the existing protected areas is not very good, either.
- The ministry’s decision to treat some wild animals as ‘vermin’ is an easy, but ineffective, way to deal with human-animal conflict as it does nothing to address the root cause of the issue
- Ecological balance cannot be restored through the barrel of a gun. The spirit of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is clear: it is to protect and preserve wildlife; to label them as “vermin” and kill them is counter to all that this vital legislation stands for and is contrary to the reasons behind its enactment.
What could be done?
Here are some steps that the government must work on
- Restoring wild habitats, strengthening anti-poaching efforts and working with villages in critical wild animal corridors.
- Creating physical barriers (solar fencing), providing interim relief schemes to forest dwellers to curb retaliatory killings, providing alternatives to village residents to reduce pressure on forest resources, evacuating people from illegally-encroached forestlands, exploring and supporting alternative livelihood options and spreading awareness among villagers for animal protection.
- WWF and its partners are working to reduce conflict with elephants through a range of techniques. These include chilli and tobacco-based deterrents to keep elephants out of fields; changing farming practices – making farms easier to defend; growing crops that elephants don’t like; education; and improving oil palm plantation practices in Malaysia and Indonesia.
- One example involves restoring degraded biological corridors to facilitate seasonal movement of elephants and other wildlife in the lowland Terai region of Nepal so that the animals don’t need to travel through human habitations and habitat management in protected areas in Nepal.
- Facilitating creative land-use planning to solve problems facing wildlife and people.
- Asian Rhinos and Elephants Action Strategy (AREAS), WWF is helping to conserve the remaining elephant populations and their habitats. This approach should be adopted wherever possible.