Human-wildlife conflict among greatest threats to animal species: WWF and UNEP report
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12th Jul, 2021
A new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), released has said that conflict between humans and animals is one of the main threats to the long-term survival of some of the world’s most iconic species
Meaning of Man-Animal conflict
- Man-Animal conflict refers to the interaction between wild animals and people and the resultant negative impact on people or their resources, or wild animals or their habitat.
- It occurs when growing human populations overlap with established wildlife territory, creating reduction of resources or life to some people and/or wild animals.
- The conflict takes many forms ranging from loss of life or injury to humans, and animals both wild and domesticated, to competition for scarce resources to loss and degradation of habitat.
Major findings in the Report
Report on Human-Wildlife Conflict worldwide
- The report, titled, A future for all - the need for human-wildlife coexistence, features contributions from 155 experts from 40 organisations based in 27 countries
- It highlights that globally, conflict-related killing affects more than 75 per cent of the world’s wild cat species.
- Besides, many other terrestrial and marine carnivore species such as polar bears and Mediterranean monk seals as well as large herbivores such as elephants are affected.
- Almost every country in the world hosts some form of human-wildlife conflict, and highly biodiverse developing countries particularly struggle with this issue.
Report on Human-Wildlife Conflict in India
- India will be most-affected by human-wildlife conflict, the report said. This was because it had the world’s second-largest human population as well as large populations of tigers, Asian elephants, one-horned rhinos, Asiatic lions and other species.
- Completely eradicating human-wildlife conflict was not possible, the report said. But well-planned, integrated approaches to managing it can reduce conflicts and lead to a form of coexistence between people and animals.
- The report gave the example of Sonitpur district in Assam. Here, destruction of forests had forced elephants to raid crops, in turn causing deaths of both, elephants and humans.
- In response, WWF India had developed the ‘Sonitpur Model’ during 2003-2004 by which community members were connected with the state forest department. They were given training on how to work with them to drive elephants away from crop fields safely.
- WWF India had also developed a low-cost, single strand, non-lethal electric fence to ease the guarding of crops from elephants.
- The project had brought dividends. For instance, in the Gohpur area of Biswanath district, some 212 hectares of crops were being lost annually to elephants before these interventions in 2015.
- Afterwards, crop losses dropped to zero for four years running. Human and elephant deaths also reduced significantly.
Data on human-wildlife conflict in India
- Between 2014-15 and 2018-19, 2,361 humans were killed as a result of conflict with elephants, while 510 elephants were killed in incidents of electrocution, train accidents, poaching and poisoning during the same period.(MoEFCC).
- Additionally, conflict with tigers caused 275 human deaths between 2014 and 2019, according to data tabled in Parliament by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
- West Bengal had the highest number of human deaths caused by elephants and tigers during these periods — 403 died due to conflict with elephants, and 74 due to tigers. West Bengal is followed by Odisha in the number of human deaths caused by elephants (397) and by Maharashtra in the number of deaths caused by tigers (74).
Causes of Man-Animal Conflict
- The primary cause of wildlife-human conflicts is the loss, degradation and fragmentation of many wildlife habitats, thereby increasing the chances of wild animals moving out of natural habitat and encountering cultivation and people.
- Land-use change outside forest areas, with irrigation from tube wells and canals aiding the cultivation of crops for longer time periods which may also attract animals such as elephants.
- Adverse climatic events such as droughts have been implicated in increased conflicts between lions and people as well an elephants and people.
- Wildlife species are also impacted by accidental deaths due to development of infrastructures, such as railway lines, roads, etc. Conflict-related mortality of wildlife does not bode well for conservation.
- Increase in wild animal population, disturbance in the corridors due to developmental activities, change in cropping pattern, increase in human populations etc. are also the contributing factors to the conflict.
- Various other reasons include adaptability of certain animals like leopard, monkey, nilgai, bear, etc which allow them to live successfully close to human habitation.
- Such conflict situations generally lead to growing antipathy among the people towards wildlife conservation resulting in retaliatory killings or injuries to animals.
Impact of Man-Animal Conflict in India
- The major outcomes of the man-animal conflict are:
- Injury and loss of life of humans and wildlife.
- Crop damage, livestock depredation, predation of managed wildlife stock.
- Damage to human property.
- Trophic cascades.
- Destruction of habitat.
- Collapse of wildlife populations and reduction of geographic ranges.
Steps needed to tackle Man Animal Conflicts
- The human-animal conflict is an important part of wildlife management , which can be harnessed by following methods:
- Early Warning system - In order to mitigate that early help is significant. Such system is successfully deployed by Tamil Nadu forest department in Valparai region of the state. With the use of technology such as television, bulk sms services, elephant alert indicators, broadcast system in public transport people are informed about the location of elephants so that they can plan accordingly to avoid conflicts.
- Restoration of habitats - As a long term measure, restoration of already degraded habitats is of utmost necessity. Protection and proper management planning should be immediately made to foster natural regeneration of forest. Communities living within or near forest can be an essential component of forest conservation, by actively engaging with forest management activities and defending their territories against poachers and loggers.
- Involvement of community - Involvement of the local community in minimizing elephant depredation and managing the critical issues of Human-Elephant conflict could be strong initiative in the fringe areas. Improving the livelihood security, introduction of alternative living options and improved agricultural practices will reduce the pressure for annual land expansion too, which should in turn reduce the need for forest clearance.
- Conservation education and awareness - Eco-development initiatives need to be encouraged in the fringe villages, along with a series of conservation education and awareness programmes.
- Elephant deterrent cash crops - The alternative elephant deterrent cash crop concept could be a promising move towards minimizing the conflict.
- Speeding up compensation process - the compensation process should be prompt for loss of life and property. This will help to get back the lost faith of the local community to the forest department.
Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) is fast becoming a serious threat to the survival of many endangered species in the world. Protected areas and the presence of wild animal populations inflict costs on local communities. In turn, local residents can develop negative attitudes towards reserves and wildlife, exacerbating the conflict and undermining conservation efforts. In order to break this cycle, there is a need to protect rural livelihoods, reduce their vulnerability, counter balance losses with benefits and foster community-based conservation. Both people and wildlife suffer tangible consequences and the different stakeholders involved should commit themselves to tackle and resolve such conflicts in the future.