Human-wildlife conflict (HWC) occurs when animals pose a direct and recurring threat to the livelihood or safety of people. Retaliation against animals often ensues, and although this is not a new scenario — people and wildlife have come into conflict for millennia — it is one that is becoming much more frequent, serious and widespread, and a global concern for conservation and development alike.
There are immense challenges in addressing HWC around the world, in particular because underlying cultural, political and economic aspects that shape these conflicts are often very complex and poorly understood. Therefore, conservation strategies for conflict-prone species need to consider not only current scenarios but also anticipate emerging conflicts in order to ensure sustainable coexistence.
Much research and collective experience across the world has shown that each case of conflict is different from the next, making it difficult to devise easily transferable solutions. Therefore, interdisciplinary approaches are essential to understanding what a given conflict is about, knowing what is needed for mitigation of a given conflict, and ensuring access to the necessary skills and resources.
As countries increasingly grapple with this multi-faceted challenge, HWC is beginning to appear in national policies and strategies for wildlife, development and poverty alleviation. Almost every country in the world hosts some form of HWC, and highly bio-diverse developing countries particularly struggle with this issue.
Efforts to address the obvious problems without fully considering the underlying socio-political conflicts fuelling the situation often result in only temporary fixes or, worse, exacerbating pre-existing tensions. Coordinated and collaborative conservation actions are therefore required to deliver meaningful results and allow communities to shift from conflict to coexistence with wildlife.
Kashmir valley has witnessed a surge in Human-Wildlife Conflict cases due to many reasons, which include competition for food, space, deforestation and encroachments. Most of the conflict takes place in orchards, human settlements, forest areas where deforestation and encroachments have taken place. Two minor girls were mauled to death a few months ago in Budgam and Ganderbal. Enraged people there protested against the wildlife department.
The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife (Protection) Act was enacted in 1978. Since the creation of a full-fledged department of Wildlife Protection in 1982, the state government has taken a series of measures for conservation of forest/ protected areas and the wildlife therein. However, the state government has notified about 16,000 sq km as the protected area network (PAN) which is being managed through anti-poaching/ anti-grazing activities, habitat management, plantation, soil and water conservation, fire protection, development of infrastructure, providing supplemental feed. etc.
Prior to this, the J&K Game Preservation Department had been created under Game Preservation Act, 1942, to protect and preserve the game “in the state” which included species of wild animals and birds considered to be important from hunting point of view. The state has amended the J&K Wildlife Protection Act of 1978 on the lines of Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972. The schedules have been revised and now there is complete ban on hunting. A number of endangered species of wild animals and plants have been brought to the Schedule-I and Schedule-IV of the Act to afford them utmost protection. Apart from this, wild plants have also been brought within the preview of this Act.
In the last decade, there has been a dramatic spike in cases of HWC. Official figures reveal that nearly 200 people lost their lives and over 2,000 were injured in human-wild animal conflict across Jammu and Kashmir since 2011. Out of the total figures of deaths and injuries, Kashmir reported 118 deaths and 1,877 injuries while the Jammu region reported 78 deaths and 448 injuries. According to official data, in 2011-12 at least 32 people were killed and 365 were injured. The following year (2012-13) recorded 16 deaths and 305 injuries while in 2013-14, 32 deaths and 369 injuries were reported.
The role of J&K Wildlife Department has remained inadequate. From the sufferings of their own employees to the ex-gratia provided to people wounded by wild animals, to casual labourers working without pay for three to four months without basic training and equipment for their self defence, the working of the department leaves much to be desired. There are also many problems which wildlife employees have to face during their operations, as crowds of people start shouting, blowing whistles and throwing stones to scare or harass wild animals, especially bears and leopards. There should be police present to disperse the crowd, which isn’t seen here, and this absence results in injuries and even deaths of wildlife employees who have to disperse the crowd at the same time as catching the wild animal.
How to tackle Human-Wildlife Conflict?
Knowing the consequences of human-wildlife conflict, it’s imperative to implement strict prevention and mitigation strategies. Different strategies hitherto utilised include lethal control, translocation of problematic wild animals, population size regulation, and endangered species preservation. Translocation of problematic wild animal species from a site of conflict to a new place is a mitigation technique used in the past, although recent research has shown that this approach can have detrimental impacts on species and is largely ineffective since it can decrease survival rates and lead to animals’ extreme dispersal movements.
Recent methodology to resolve human-wildlife conflict must utilise comprehensive and cross-sector collaborative processes between forestry, wildlife, agriculture, livestock, and other relevant sectors that will surely help in alleviating this issue on a larger scale. Additionally, it’s the duty of all stakeholders and experts to improve community education and the perception of the general public regarding animals. Not only this, government authorities must offer monetary compensation for losses sustained due to human-wildlife conflict, since such actions will deter the need for retaliatory killings of animals, and financially encourage the co-existence of humans and wildlife.
The use of guard dogs is also one of the effective strategies in mitigating human-carnivore conflict around the globe and it can lower the loss of livestock by 60%. Lastly, it must be kept in mind that mitigation strategies for managing human-wildlife conflict vary significantly depending on location and type of conflict. Regardless of approach, the most successful solutions are those that will include local communities in the planning, implementation, and maintenance. Therefore, it is time we all stand together in combating human-wildlife conflict through proper scientific methodologies that will surely help humans and wild animal species to live in peace and harmony.
—The writer hails from district Ganderbal and is a DMLT student. [email protected]