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Calling a truce

 

Deccan Herald, New Delhi, 29th November 2013,

There are many solutions to mitigate the human-animal conflict. However, there seems to be no solid strategy in place in India. Madhumita B talks to Dr Krithi Karanth of the Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore, to throw light on conflict resolution in the State.

An effective mitigation strategy to avoid man-animal conflict could prove to be the turning point for wildlife conservation. It is a realisation that, wherever measures to minimise or prevent incidents of human-wildlife conflict is present, there is no animosity among people towards the many species of wildlife or the custodians of the forest.

It is unfortunate then that it isn’t a reality in our national parks and tiger reserves, atleast not completely. The truth is, there are a multitude of solutions being churned out on several platforms and some of these reflect optimism too, but very few actually get to see the light of day. The problem lies not just in the challenge of implementation that at times can be mammoth, but also in the reluctance of bureaucrats and politicians to understand the seriousness of the situation. The results can only be destructive, further complicating an already tough task at hand.

Conflict need not necessarily be as formidable to mitigate as it appears to be, feels Dr Krithi K Karanth, Associate Conservation Scientist for Wildlife Conservation Society (New York) and Executive Director of the Centre for Wildlife Studies in Bangalore. Atleast not in Karnataka, adds Dr Karanth, who has reflected this in her extensive large scale study directed at highlighting the underlying factors for conflict across five reserves in the Western Ghats region of Karnataka as compared to that of Central India.

According to her, in Karnataka, there is now an awareness of the causes of conflict, and also the knowledge of which species could potentially cause this, along with the ‘why’, and possibly the ‘where’ too. She shares that in Karnataka, this area of conservation can be a lot easier to deal with than in some other states in the central part of the country that face a tougher obstacle when it comes to conflict management. She explains that here, the two resultant factors of conflict — crop and livestock loss — is mostly caused by elephants and boars, and tigers and leopards, respectively. In that sense, there is already a know-how on which species and areas need more work on mitigation. “As a result of this awareness, we can implement, quite successfully, what is termed as ‘Target mitigation’ in Karnataka.

The data recorded through scientific research can be used to target preventive action in the most vulnerable conflict-prone villages around each of these reserves. Such a large scale study as this one was imperative as it gives a more representative idea of conflict.

Scientific study

Additionally, the most crucial ways to reduce conflict can be broadly classified into two. First, effective mitigation measures. Here, it has to include measures that are scientifically evaluated and monitored for efficacy before the investment of huge sums of money. Second, a strong reiteration for a more reformed compensation process. Recompense is essential for better tolerance towards wildlife and could build long-term local support for India’s many species,” stated Dr Karanth, who is the lead author of the study.

The study ‘Patterns of human-wildlife conflicts and compensation – Insights from Western Ghats protected areas’ undertook the research in Dandeli-Anshi, Bandipur, Nagarhole, Bhadra and BRT covering 1,972 households in 1,371 villages in a 7,449 kilometre square area. The survey that questioned villagers on conflict incidents and the ways they adopt is also stated to have examined the socio-economic and environmental factors associated with an individual household’s reporting of crop and livestock loss and compensation access.

The results, while drawing out a clear-cut pattern, have revealed that livestock loss from man-animal conflict is much lesser in the Western Ghats as compared to Central India.

According to the report, ‘Families living close to the reserves with highest densities of wildlife, suffer highest loss. Crop loss was associated with growing of cotton, sugarcane, coffee and rice. But what the study found was that crops such as cotton and coffee that are less attractive to wildlife as compared to the other two, were also raided. This is an indicator to the fact that certain households will remain vulnerable simply due to their proximity to the reserves and for these, specific measures need to be present to manage the conflict wisely. In relation to livestock loss, the study found that cattle grazing inside the reserve by the villagers was the major affecting factor.’

The results suggested that improving compensation process was clearly needed but raised concerns about whether compensation will promote tolerance and lower retaliation against wildlife in the long-term or raise expectations and hostility when requests are poorly dealt with.

Additionally, the study strongly suggests that ‘use of financial incentives and instruments (compensation, insurance or revenue sharing, for example, from tourism) must be applied with caution at scales that can be observed and monitored locally.

The Western Ghats is among the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world. It nurtures some of the most unique, rich and versatile species of plants, birds, amphibians and mammals. The wildlife reserves in this area, home to several thousands of species, is vital for their survival. “We have to come up with innovative ways to protect not just their habitats within the reserves, but also their corridors that exist outside,” said Dr Karanth.

There still exists a considerable amount of tolerance for wildlife that is inbuilt in our culture and values. But it needs to be respected by ensuring that when conflict or loss happens, it isn’t escalated, and necessary steps are taken to minimise them to the best possible extent. Conservation is a huge challenge, and a necessary one too. The constant underhanded fight for space leading to diminishing forest areas, conflict, various projects sanctioned in wildlife areas and mining, all by themselves are almost akin to a formidable battle. But the Achilles Heel that we need to overcome is a frail system and a weakening morality in the bureaucracy. A competent measure is the necessity if we are serious about protecting our natural habitats and preserving the many species of plants and animals that inhabit this country.