New Delhi: Leopards emerge from the thickets of Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park at night, looking for goats and chicken in the small human dwellings living on its edges, and sometimes run into bipeds who use the same territory for jogging and games earlier in the day. A few miles north in Palghar, a leopard recently raided a poultry farm, killing 50 fowls.
On 9 February, an elephant that strayed from the jungle and could not make its way back wrecked havoc at West Bengal’s Siliguri. Two days earlier, leopards entered a school in Bengaluru, mauling two and triggering panic.
Human-wildlife conflict is steadily rising and unless addressed well with specific measures, it could lead to retaliatory killing of animals by mobs, warns the draft national wildlife action plan (NWAP) 2017-2031 unveiled last week.
Calling such conflicts largely human-induced, the draft plan notes that the increase of tiger, leopard and elephant population across the country has heightened the possibility of human-wildlife conflicts in the fringes of forests across the country.
The latest tiger census shows India has 2,226 tigers, which is about 60% of their total world population. Similarly, the first-ever leopard census in September pegged their numbers to be around 12,000-14,000.
The action plan suggested timely compensation for any damage or loss of life, property and crops by government to maintain good faith and advocated complementing that by installing and maintaining barriers, wherever required.
In January 2015, the environment ministry had asked states to look at creating bee and chilly fences to prevent human-elephant conflict which, on average, results in the death of around 100 elephants and 400 humans every year.
The plan also said that “wildlife corridors should be identified, recognized, established and maintained to reduce conflict”.
The draft NWAP noted that the primary cause of wildlife-human conflicts is the loss, degradation and fragmentation of many wildlife habitats which has increased the chances of wild animals moving out of their natural habitat and encountering cultivation and people.
For instance, habitat loss and fragmentation have been clearly shown to enhance conflict between elephants and agriculture. Similarly, substantial recovery of once-dwindling populations of the black buck and nilgai has resulted in increased conflict with agriculture in northwest and central India.
The plan said it is only over the last decade or so that a comprehensive understanding of conflict scenarios has been acknowledged as a critical necessity for devising long-term sustainable strategies for mitigation of wildlife-human conflicts in the country.
The draft NWAP 2017-2031 is the third such plan as the second NWAP 2002-2016 comes to an this year. The draft is open for suggestions and comments till 17 February from all stakeholders, after which it will be finalised. Once finalised, it will drive India’s conservation efforts for the next 15 years till 2031.
The plan called for conservation measures involving all major stakeholders, as rising conflicts have led to growing antipathy among people towards wildlife conservation, resulting in retaliatory killings or injuries to animals.
Extensive education and awareness programmes to reduce growing animosity among people towards wild animals are required, the action plan said.
Recently, the Union environment ministry declared wild boars as “vermin” in Uttarakhand for a year, which would pave the way for their extermination on a large scale as the state government claimed it was causing destruction of crops.
The plan said the human-wildlife conflict scenarios in India were as diverse as the approaches to mitigate the conflict.
Importantly, the plan suggested that the Union environment ministry needs to ensure that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of developmental projects takes into consideration potential human-wildlife conflicts that largescale change in land use can cause and don’t turn out to be drivers of conflict, in future.
The plan also said that wildlife species that regularly come into conflict with humans should be identified and species that cause maximum damage to humans and are most adversely impacted due to conflict should be prioritized.
Suggested measures in draft NWAP to tackle human wildlife conflict:
- Extensive education and awareness programmes to reduce growing animosity among people towards wild animals.
- Environment ministry should ensure developmental projects do not increase conflicts.
- Wild animals should not be captured physically unless absolutely required. Should be released back into suitable habitats immediately.
- Use of traditional knowledge to tackle conflicts.
- National surveys to collect data on wildlife-human conflict
- Participation of local bodies in managing conflict
- Constitution of a well trained workforce in forest departments to tackle conflicts