Lessons from human - wildlife conflicts

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  • Lessons from humqn-wildlife conflictsHumqns ond v,iild qnimqls hove

    to shqre common spoce

    Only a dramatic shift in the understanding of policy makers, media,local peopie and conservationis ts can bring down losses to both

    humans and animals, say Vidya Athreya and colleagues.

    A fenab leopatd plays in Dachigam Widlife Sancaary near Sinagar. Jamma and Kashmir has come upwib peoph+uppoted policies to handb conficts iwolulng aild animals. puoro, *

    lndia is a fascinating counrry. Nor only is itI home ro rhe largest number oflanguages. reli-I gion.

    "nd.ulrur'.s, ir al50 supports 5ome ofrhe

    richesr biodiversity areas in the wodd. If we con-sider just the large carnivores, India has four spe-cies of large cats, four bears and six in the dogfamily. If we compare this to all of Europe, theyhave only four species of Iarge carnivores. Even ata human density of more than 300 people per sqkm and severe pressures on land, India still retainsmost of irs wildlife species, even the potentiallydangerous ones. The reason might be due to thetolerance Indians show for other life forms. It is

    evident in the way animals, domestic or wild, arepositively incorporated into their culture, religionand life. Tolerance is something we take for grant-ed but is required for rhe persistence ofthe charis-matic, big wildlife. Simply put, wild animals willremain only if the local people let thdm.

    In rural North America and parts of Europe,wild carnivores like the wolf and bear often invokenegative sentimenrs among the local people.These animals were vinually wiped out by themid-20th century due to State-supported extermi-nation programmes where rewards were offeredfor each carnivore killed, This mindset changed

    THE rilNDU SLRvL/ Ot 107

  • and the focus has shifted to conservation. As aresult, the wolves, mountain lions, and bears, areall making a slow comeback. In the meantinie, thelocal people who had forgotten how to live withthese animals now protest strongly against their 'return. In India, the extermination ofa dangerousspecies was never pan ofrhe ethos. Although wildanimals were hunted for sport or food, the in-tenrion has never been to wipe out the entirespecies because they were considered dangerous.In fact, even toda;r many tribal societies worshipanimals and regard losses to wild animals as partof nature's cycle. This tolerance is deep-rooted inIndia's society.

    'What can change this however, are attacks onhumans by these animals. Although thousands ofpeople die due to road accidents and 30,000 diefroh rabies transmitted by domestic dogs eachyear in India without inducing much commentfrom society, deaths caused by elephants, tigers orleopards provoke a public outcry and receive glar-ing media coverage. In the face of administrativeaparhy and policy constrainr on action, such at-tacks result in retaliation by the local people to-wards the entire species. So when leopards killlivestock and people have to deal with a non-functiooal administrative mechanism and time-consuming compensation schemes, frustration of-ten leads them to resort to poisoning ofany leop-ard in that area.

    Long-ronging movemenlThis problem of human-wildlife confict will

    never be resolved in India unless there is a drasticshift in the understanding of the policy makers,media, local people and conservationists. Even to-day we expect wildlife to live only in our nationalparks and wildlife sanctuaries, However, thesecomprise only five per cent of the area of India,making it impossible to confine all our wildlifeinside these small islands of forest. To compoundthe problem, all the large wildlife species are bi-ologically programmed to move large distances.Information from radio-collared elephants showsthat they regularly move from lfest Bengal toAssam and back again; dispersing tigers havemoved 400 km; Asiatic Lions move over hundredsof kilometres from Gir Sanctuary to other areasoutside; leopards have also been seen to movemore than 100 km. \flhen moving across suchlarge distances, these animals do not have anyoption but to use human-dominated landscapes.

    'We humans even ":issist" these movements by

    A hopard inuolued in conflict, luchyto be alioe afier capnre,

    When leopards kill livestock andpeople have to deal with a non-

    fu nctional administrativemechanism and time-consuming

    compensation schemes, frustrationoften leads them to resort to

    poison to kill any leopardin that area.

    providing food to these animals outside the pro-tected areas. For animals like the deer, monkeys,elephants and wild pigs, crops provide easy foodwhereas the large cats, wolves and bears are at-tracted to the cattle, goats, feral dogs and pigs inour countryside. This overlap in space usage be-rween porentially dangerous species of wildlife,and humans sets the stage for conflicr. The peoplewho are affected are not like you and me, butpoor, ofien marginal people who rely on farming,animal husbandry and dairy farming for their live-lihoods. How the conflict plays out depends onour managemenr of rhis siruation.

    'Wild animals are inherently scared of humansand anacks are usually a result ofaccidents, whenman and animal bump into each other in difficultsituations. The response of a frightened corneredanimal is to attack and then flee. However when awild animal chases the person with the intent to

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  • 'la/ ia confiet, lucby. ft 7 c4ptufe,

    r Liil livestock ando deal with a non-arl m i nistrative

    rd time-consumingrchemes, frustration&em to resort tohill

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    hat area.

    c animals outside the pro-els like the deer, monkeys,r, crops provide easy food. rrolves and bears are at-:aa, feral dogs and pigs inorcrlap in space usage be-eerous species of wildlife,ut fbr confict. The peopleoor like you and me, butcople who rely on farming,d:in farming for their live-iict plays out depends onis siruation.l'rerently scared of humansa result of accidents, wheninro each other in difficultr of a frightened corneredrhen flee. However when aperson with the intent to

    rhe body, then the matter

    In some counftia uherc ctmiuores are mahing a comeback with conseruation sapport, hcalcommunities haue goxe back to the days of sheepdogs fot protexion,

    takes a very serious turn. These instances are anexception rather than the norm. Recent researchon elephants and large cats shows that intentionalattacks are usually due to biologically inappropri-ate methods being used to dealwith these animals.If the situarion is managed well, human deathscan be largely avdided.

    fhe leopord exompleTake the case ofthe leopard in India. Since it is

    more common than the endangered tiger andAsiatic lion, it is implicated in the largest numberof attacks on people. In fact its name is oftensynonymous in rhe media with a man-eater. ![hatis interesting is that for the most part leopards livewithout attacking people. Our recent work hasfound a densiry of 12 adult leopards in 100 sq kmliving among human densities of 200 people persq km, in a human-dominated landscape devoidofforests. No human death has occurred here dueto leopard attacks. More interestingly, we havefound that attacks on people are an aberrationgoverned by complex factors which require us toincrease our level of understanding.

    Leopards are the most adaprable of the largecats and typifr wildlife that lives outside forests.

    Leopards have always lived outside forests, be ittea gardens, fringes of forests, in croplands, andthey have been reported even from urban areas.Since we have not yet accepted that non-wilder-ness areas can support wildlife, the public, manag-ers and media expect all leopards to be confinedwithin forests and so leopards found outside for-ested areas are often trapped and moved to a near-by forest. Our work also found that leopardswhich had been living in village areas withoutattacking people started attacking people whenthey were released away from their territory. Thiswas likely due to the stress they face during cap-ture, release in an unknown area, and as we alsofound many instances, of translocated leopardshoming back ro where they were originallycaught.

    Homing inslincts

    Increasing research evidence is indicating thatlarge cats have strong homing instincts; a leopardin Africa walked back 400 km to its site of cap-ture, taking a year to do so. In a populous countrylike India, a lost leopard navigating through unfa-miliar territory is a recipe for disaster. Our find-ings also indicate that most sites which have


  • chronic intentional attacks on people by leopardsare within 100 km ofrelease sites. Furthermore, itappears that all areas where leopard attacks onpeople occur have .ome lorm of inrenenrionl ei-ther capture afld release or kiiling ofthe leopard. ,Uttarakland is a good example ofthis. Since Brit-ish times leopards have been kilied in large num-bers in this State and large numbers ofpeople havebeen killed by leopards as well. This should be aw,rke-up call thar rhis managemenr srraregy i. norworking and we need to change the way we workro thar human Iives can be ,a\ed (nor ro mentionthe lives of many leopards).

    J & K shows the woyWith their knowledge base far superior ro what

    is available in India, countries in Europe are devis-ing policies to deal with carlivores that do notunderstand man-made administrative boundaries.In India, for th most part, the lack of politicalwill has resulted in an absence of radical shift in

    flict records. Five youths from each village will beput on engagement rolls and will form the in-terface between the Department an