The Conservation Conundrum

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Exploring solutions to the worsening human-wildlife conflict in India.


The Recent Conflict

The recent death of an elephant, after consuming firecracker laden fruit meant for wild boars, raised much clamour in both Indian as well as international media. But a mere google search can show us that incidents such as these are more the norm and less an exception especially in a country like ours.


It is an extremely privileged and callous viewpoint if one is only blaming the perpetrators, who are local farmers defending their crops from vermin.


A feasible solution for addressing issues like this would require a more fundamental approach, rather than attributing the blame on a few scapegoats. Thanks to strong conservation legislation implemented in the last three decades, the once declining population of many animals, is now seeing an optimistic uptick.


But as both human and animal populations continue to rise, the resources they compete for remain limited, leading into a fatal fight for survival. It is estimated in some reports that one human life is lost to animal attacks every day. There is also a widespread crop and livestock depredation totaling up to ‘millions of rupees of loss’ to farmers every year.


Farmers’ tolerance to this depredation is often a function of factors such as economic status of the farmer, vulnerability, extent and nature of the damage, success of the growing season and religious beliefs.


Bound by law on one hand and poverty on the other, both farmers and animals continue being a part of this unjust system. This cascades the friction between local communities and the wildlife.


Understanding the context of this survival struggle would require delving deeper into its causes hence, this article will be limited to the exploration of workable mitigation strategies to solve the growing crisis.


Successful Experiment

(courtesy: discoverwalks)


Up until very recently, boys of the Maasai tribe in Northern Tanzania attained the status of a warrior by killing a lion single-handedly. But now, the new metric for manliness has evolved into protecting the same wildlife from any harm. In return, the Maasai are paid conservation dividends by the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, from the income generated via ‘Campi ya Kanzi’, a luxury wildlife safari. They are also provided education and health facilities that embrace and celebrate the Maasai traditional knowledge base.


As a pastoral community, they avoid any clashes with wild animals by not interrupting their natural movements and making use of simple tricks like cowbells that warn wild animals of the presence of cattle herds and herders. Any animal ransacking is compensated by the trust and not retaliated against.


This is a textbook example of how an effective human-wildlife conflict resolution can be achieved, by incentivizing local community collaboration and sensitizing them about the value of wildlife.


There are other less explored, but effective methods like intermixing your crop with variants unpalatable to the animal. Farmers in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique have been intermixing their crops with chilli peppers to keep away elephants as they are quite averse to capsaicin.

(courtesy: wildtech)


Beehive fencing is another innovation that banks on the fact that elephants have an inherent fear of bees. The nearby farmers also benefit from the income generated via apiculture. This practice has been successfully adopted across African regions. Even in India, ‘Thaen’, is a similar project implemented by two IRMA alumni, Arnelit and Arun of PRM 39, in the Nilgiris and it has met with considerable success.


The Sundarbans, infamous for its man-eating tigers, has adopted a practice of placing human dummies, rigged with battery-powered live electric wires, in the buffer zones to instill a fear of humans amongst deadly predators.

The Assam government too recently launched ‘Anti-Depredation squads’ which recruited and trained the local youth to scare away attacking herds back into the forest and spread awareness about peaceful coexistence.


Other Innovative Steps we can Take

Since the conflicts are a direct consequence of human interference, mitigation should also include focus on preventive strategies like - improving natural food sources by conserving non-cattle prey base and introducing palatable vegetation within the animal habitat.


Revival of natural animal corridors, though quite expensive, is believed to be extremely useful in keeping away animals that migrate large distances, from human habitats. Immune contraception is an effective way to cull mounting pest populations such as wild boars and monkeys.


These are cost-intensive and may need many policy interventions.

Another effective intervention from the government would be timely, equitable and convenient disbursal of compensation amount to pacify emotional uprisings and retaliation against these animals, as has been seen in the case of the Maasais.


The Challenges we are facing

Lastly, a lack of empirical data-based-evidence on proposed solution’s feasibility, discourages conservation agencies from making any required financial investment which is a big-budget. There is a large lacuna of accurate data on the animal population, movement routes, land use patterns in the village, the loss incurred in attacks etc.

Aggressive data generation aided by technologies like aerial surveys should be undertaken. Drawing out and analysing patterns from these statistics would aid the process of drafting preventive action plans.


Conclusion

The historic solution of coexistence via spatial separation is not a viable option now, and band-aid policies have shown to cause further detriment. The best way forward is to accept that there is no more room for adhocism and that there is no single panacea to this problem.

Our focus should be now on grassroots policy changes that can enable the formulation of tailor-made, data-based, region-specific solutions, in collaboration with the local stakeholders.

These policies should also be revised from time to time to evolve, as animals tend to devise new ways to circumvent obstacles. Like what happens with traditional trenches and electric fences installed, to keep off elephants in Nilgiris, and face-masks worn at the back of the head to mislead tigers in Sundarbans.

Also, solutions such as fostering eco-tourism, which encompass incentives for local community participation seem to be the most effective. This will lead us to a trade-off point where animals and humans can coexist in peace benefiting mutually.

With a focused, empathetic and interdisciplinary approach, this target won’t be too far!


- Ardhra Prakash



About the author:

Malayali. Feminist. Optimist. Ardhra Prakash is a PGDRM participant at the Institute of Rural Management, Anand. She has worked with companies belonging to various levels in the food value chain, after completing her undergraduation in Hospitality Management from the Institute of Hotel Management, Mumbai.


She believes in the immense possibilities of the rural consumer market and is building a career in this space. Apart from regular culinary escapades and reading, she tries to spend her time learning something new every day – from horticulture, to carpentry.


Ardhra is a firm believer in the quote by Emily Dickinson – “Take care of the small things and the big things will take care of itself.’’