By Dr. Shakunthala Sridhara

(Digital Discourse). Increasing human footprint is decimating habitat and wildlife leading to unsustainable human wildlife conflict the world over. This often manifests as crop raiding elephants and wild boars, bears and crocodiles attacking man; however man-eating wolves, leopards and tigers are rarer. As a consequence, species such as elephants and wild boars are killed indiscriminately thus impairing the sustenance of their gene pool. In India, crop raiding elephants are quite literally caught between the devil and the deep sea. Their migrating corridors have been encroached by ever increasing human settlements and crop land. Frequent skirmishes between the two, resulting in such measures as exploding fire crackers or firing bullets, have traumatised elephants and their young with the conflict entering a vicious cycle. In Africa, many parts of South East Asia and northern Australia, fishermen often face vicious crocodile attacks. Infact in Africa an average of 2000 people die every year at the jaws of the feared Nile crocodile, a fearless man eater. It is killed by victims’ and survivors’ families in revenge. The vengeful killing of crocodiles has endangered its survival.

Parakeets are considered pests in many emerging economies and are repulsed using audio, visual aids by farmers - effective methods in mitigating conflict with endangered parakeets. Reflector ribbons and protecting crops by netting the fields have also proven to be successful and are being scaled up world over. Wild boars and the blue bull or Nilgai are often declared as pests and eliminated by professional hunters who manage to get hunting permits to kill vermin.

Sunflower farmers in India have evolved a sustainable means of mitigating human wildlife conflict. The Parakeets that raid sunflower fields are prevented by huge nets spread across the cultivated fields. ©University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore.

Where does the solution lie? Sustainable human-wildlife conflict management can be defined as“management of problem-causing-wildlife to sustain their populations and habitat in the long term, taking into account the socio-economic needs of the affected human communities”.

Human-Wildlife conflicts (HWC) occur whenever and wherever humans and wildlife compete for declining natural resources. It has been taking place eversince humans dominated planet earth. But, since the dawn of last century, these conflicts have intensified due to accelerated growth of industrial activities and expanding agriculture; the latter to feed the exponentially increasing human population and the former to make human life unsustainably more comfortable and luxurious, especially in the developed world. It is this unsustainable standard of life that is having a deleterious impact on wildlife and their habitats. Conflicts also arise when some species such as kangaroos, wild boar, and blue bull also become dominant in their habitats, similar to human beings. A third important and crucial factor contributing to HWC is changing human values and attitudes towards wildlife.

The Nilgai or blue bull is often declared a pest and culled mercilessly. But it has made no difference to crop raiding aver conservationists. It makes a juicy meal for endangered carnivores like tiger, leopard, black panther and wild dog, © Pixabay / Creative Commons

HWC’s key issues can be dealt under four major heads namely Safety and Security, Food Security and Livelihood, Transmission of Diseases to humans and livestock and, finally, Conservation of Wildlife.

Safety and Security:

Wildlife, including large herbivores and carnivores, attack humans when threatened, often leading to injury and / or death. Death may occur when people venture out into the habitat of wild animals, when they happen to be near waterways in the protected areas, while protecting crops or while encountering an injured wild animal whose normal sense of caution is affected. The resulting fear in humans restricts their freedom of movement; access to resources induces high levels of stress and insecurity. Wildlife causing road deaths and birds colliding with aircraft are also more frequent these days. As a result of increase in air traffic and callous waste disposal such collisions recur; indicating frequency rather than any possible increase in numbers of avifauna.

Food security and livelihoods:

Agricultural fields eat into wildlife habitat especially in developing countries. Not only is wildlife vulnerable to human encroachment, the incidence of human-wildlife conflict increases. Habitat destruction leads to fragmentation of herds triggering isolation of gene pool too. The problem is amplified with farmers spending considerably more time in guarding their crops than in farm activities; school absenteeism and dropping out of school sustains poverty for the next generation rather than mitigate it!

HWC also creates high levels of stress amongst affected people due to constant fear of clashing with large wild animals. Farmers stay up in vigil all night, affecting their sleep cycle and leaving them vulnerable to stress induced disorders like diabetes and hypertension too. Marital discord and socio economic travails afflict farming communities as a consequence. Frustrated farmers resort to illegal killing of wildlife, antagonising the conservation community – both government and NGOs.

Disease transmission:

Many wild animals transmit diseases from/to livestock as they often share common waterholes and grazing pastures. Livestock diseases such as brucellosis, Bovine tuberculosis and Bovine Anthrax devastate wildlife populations and threaten zoological diversity. Conversely several deadly diseases such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Ebola infection, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Corona Virus and Brucellosis, Anthrax, H1N1, H5N9, have jumped from wildlife to humans.

Conservation of Biodiversity:

Declining wildlife species are indicators of the urgency to conserve them. Some species of large carnivores such as lions, hyenas and wolves have been eliminated from extensive ranges due to HWC. Affected people resort to illegal killing, poisoning, shooting and trapping the problematic animals, adversely affecting the environment, including predator-prey relations.

Causes of Human-Wildlife conflict: Understanding the underlying causes of conflict are crucial to reducing impacts of HWC. The most important factor of HWC is competition for the same declining natural resources. The need for legislation of land-use is driven by the urgency to mitigate HWC. Conversion of forests, savannas, wetlands and other ecosystems to provide land for agriculture food, water, energy etc is the biggest factor. Developmental activities, hydroelectric projects, newer roads, railway tracks, industries, mining, quarrying also reduce food availability for forest denizens; habitat loss affects movement patterns, migration and even social organization of species such as elephants.

War, civil strifes and climate change may drive people to seek shelter and utilize natural resources inside the protected areas, thus shrinking resources for wildlife. Other reasons for HWC include illegal hunting / poaching, drought, ecotourism inside the protected areas. Conflicts also arise by successful breeding of threatened fauna such as crocodiles, wolves, kangaroo etc. Inadequate compensation for wildlife damage also contributes to sustaining the vicious cycle of HWC.

The affected populace always harbour a feeling of injustice and usually resent the undue importance given to wildlife conservation as against their legitimate needs for survival.Their exclusion from decision making in reducing and managing HWC leaves them resenting wildlife. Moreover, they are unable to appreciate the long term benefits of conservation. This single genesis for mitigation of HWC calls for increased Media engagement to create awareness.

But the entire picture isn’t so bleak and there have been some successful experiments in mitigating HWC. Pasting chili paste on ropes fencing agricultural lands to keep migrating elephants out is far safer compared to electric fences; the very odour of chili paste prompts the elephants to avoid them. Though it has proved to be a successful experiment in mitigating human-elephant conflict, it lacks political support largely because protecting wildlife is unlikely to deliver votes.

Mitigating HWC can be accomplished through several approaches, with understanding human dimensions to the problem and always being sensitive to people’s needs, a crucial factor. Conflict resolution process should include:

· Identifying and meaningfully engaging all the stakeholders including conservationists, affected populace and veterinarians,

· Mapping conflict points,

· Evaluating and adapting suitable strategies,

· Ensuring effective communication and implementation,

· Building trust, and

· Educating the importance of wildlife and working closely with affected communities.

The important approaches to reduce conflict situation include:

Monetary compensation to affected people,

Voluntary relocation of local communities,

Good land use planning,

Guarding livestock in case of carnivore predations,

Erecting barriers such as electric fences as a secondary wall or fence but preceded by chili ropes,

Fencing with bells which will alert about crop raiding animals

Normal wire fences,

Stone walls,

Steel/iron bars,

Changes in livestock husbandry and

Alternate crops.

Alternatively, employ various ways of deterring wild animals from preying on livestock and damaging crops by targeting all their senses. These include:

Ø Using chilli rope fencing,

Ø Beating pots/tins/bells,

Ø Exploding firecrackers, as a penultimate measure before heeding to the last resort

Ø Using light sources such as fire and torches.

Ø To a limited extent translocation of nuisance wildlife can be successful in reducing HWC. But relocation of aggressive crocodiles has proven to be futile exercise in the long term in Africa, Australia and in Andaman Nicobar Islands.

Ø As a last resort killing problematic animals is resorted to by affected people; and governments are forced to employ trophy hunters. But this is highly ineffective in reducing the conflict as it only buys time and is too expensive in the long term.

We have seen the risks involved in erecting electric fences and in exploding firecrackers. Any means that will traumatise mute, helpless wildlife will only rebound on Man. Thus sustainable low cost means like chili ropes or high cost means like sensor based microchipping of problematic animals may be the future for mitigating human wildlife conflict.

With no significant sign of stabilisation or decrease of human population growth, the demand for natural resources and land, conflicts between humans and wildlife are definitely going to escalate. Total elimination of conflict is impossible to achieve. The best approach is to bring down the conflicts to tolerable levels and simultaneously educate the affected communities to accept the inevitability of co-existence with wildlife and share the resources sustainably. No single method will solve the conflicts. A comprehensive, integrated, transparent approach based on the nature of the problem, biology and behaviour of the conflict-causing-species of animals and local environment involving all the stakeholders has to be formulated to prevent, reduce and manage HWC.

Culling has never been successful. Eliminating the cause that drives Human-Wildlife conflict is the lasting and sustainable solution.